Monday, August 31, 2015

Slumming through recession: Grexit scenarios of tourism

The result of the recent referendum in Greece over its – depending on whom you ask – future in the Eurozone has shaken most natives, confused diasporic Greeks who could not vote from abroad and angered those less sympathetic to the Greek cause. I think that there is enough to-ing and fro-ing in the cybersphere on the so-called ‘Grexit’ these days, so I will not add further comments. My observations relate to a lateral issue: it concerns what glocal responses (as in Robertson 1995) to troika policies did to alter the country’s image as a tourist destination (for critics of such market policies, it helps to remember that as is the case with other island states, the Greek economy depends on tourist flows to the date). Connected to this question is how foreigners came to view the country as a ‘host’ more generally over the last two years or so.

Like most, I too remain confused. One of my latest Facebook travels revealed a link to a video in which Greek students from Birmingham dance in the rhythms of Zorba the Greek on campus – a rather bizarre reaction to the definitive ‘No’ that the ‘Greek people’ had delivered to its ‘EU oppressors’ only a few hours ago (the actual video dated from 2012 and was posted on You Tube on the Greek Independence Day– see Mack, 25 March 2012). I compared this to the dancing and celebration scenes at Exarchia when the first referendum voting results were announced (No Comment TV, 06 July), and wondered how the coupling of such desperate defiance with performances of the most touristified Greek music would appear to a visitor’s eyes. The surrealist gusto Greeks display has various, unseen at this point, consequences, possibly exacerbating stereotypical conceptions of Greek habitus and streamlining those back into a rejuvenated, if not radically redefined tourist market.

Let me backtrack a bit to explain this potentially surreal effect: I am sure most of us remember the political background of 2008 (see Wikipedia, undated on ‘Ta Dekemvriana’, including Greek anti-government protests after Nea Dimokratia’s failure to restructure the country’s labour markets (Papadimitriou 2009: 51-2; Tzanelli 2011: chapter 6) – further challenged from 2010, when the Greek economy experienced another dip that would push the country to borrow more, accumulate a debt impossible to repay and, finally, under a left-wing government, respond to its debtors’ threats with proposals to exit the common EU currency and the EU itself. There is so much media talk about the proliferation of disorder and fostering of all sorts of terrorism in the country; booking your package holiday to a Greek island is a de facto bad idea. To mobilities academics like myself this might suggest that we have eventually reached the ‘end of tourism’ as a political reality. Public frustration has proceeded to remove the glossy veneer from the country’s cosmetic cosmopolitanism (Nederveen Pieterse 2006) – a veneer in earnest also necessary for engaging with other cultures, including the alleged ‘superficiality’ of touring and media arts – leaving its ‘skin’ blemished by centuries of foreign interference, ‘bare’, like the lives of its disposed citizenry. So, the neoliberal cage seems to have been exchanged with one of sheer terror. 

If not cautiously unpacked, such statements merely reverse Fukuyama’s (1992) reflections in the End of History, the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government that shunts radical alternatives in a conservative deadlock: either our history terminates in evolutionary terms, or extremism terminates its industrial human capital. There are other voices that argue that tourism has ended in new global environments of mobilities in the sense that we cannot separate it from other forms of spatio-temporal and functionally differentiated movements, such as migration, business travel, technological services, skills and the like – that we live in the age of nomadology (Hannam 2008; Hannam 2006). Unfortunately, observations that tourism ends where terrorism and other forms of social conflict thrive (Korstanje and Clayton 2012) are very close to contemporary Greek realities.

From the start of the global recession the end of Greek tourism manifested itself in bundles of endogenous (strikes and protests against cuts, welfare retrenchment and poverty-induced troika policies as well as rising levels of xenophobia against both tourists and migrants) but also exogenous (terrorism allegedly exclusively of alien origins) mobilities. All of them retain the nomadological attributes of strangeness – referring to both privileged and disenfranchised aliens. Gone were the peace of some island beaches, upon which tourists would now increasingly find migrants (alive or dead) washed ashore (usually from Greece’s archenemy-state, Turkey) (Bearden, 29 May 2015); Acropolis tours for cultural tourists, who would be blocked by labour strikers and protesters against heritage privatisation (see Smith, 27 January 2011 and 16 March 2014); and luxury urban tourisms that hordes of homeless beggars and emergency food provision stalls would disrupt with invocations of consumerist guilt. Contemporary Greek social landscapes tend to be at odds with otherwise persistent tourism trends in the country (beach and heritage holidays), when one thing is sure: the clash is here to stay. The (justified) fear is that Greece might enjoy short tourism renaissances (Lowen, 25 June 2014), but its slide into a ‘Third World’ purgatory will eventually coerce it to redefine its global market presence. And given constant invocations of Second World War ‘debts’ (that Germany refuses to discharge) by both the country’s leadership and common folk, it seems that recession promoted a resentful retrenchment into past suffering that matches so well its contemporary landscapes of homelessness and poverty.  

Let me be clear: I have no interest in contributing in post-neoliberal redefinitions of Greek tourism, but plenty in providing glimpses at alarming prognostics. The aforementioned performative protests already sit comfortably at a crossroads between dark (of war, famine and suffering) and slum (poverty and normally urban) tourisms in that they have become the country’s enduring representational core in global media platforms (Gopal, 31 March 2015). In many ways, global audiences have already become ‘trained’ to gaze on Greek poverty, with all the ethical issues this may provoke (Baptista 2012; Tzanelli 2015). It feels as if global reporting on the crisis portrays a society at its final gasp, ready to be sacralised in marketable images of begging, death and ‘endemic’ terrorism. But do global audiences really care? Bauman’s (2007) argument that any attempt to sacralise dying as a spectacle is the prelude to the represented tragedy’s neglect, should prompt a response from the Greek governing centre. But what sort of response – and can this escape capitalist exploitation? There could be coordinated efforts to connect such spectacles of poverty (the ‘staple’ of global press reporting) to progressive trends of social tourism – to employ the poor to engage with visitors. But currently, there is no such thing in Greece. What would also be absent from such an ‘exercise’ would be globally coordinated volunteer tourist education - or, more correctly, ethical political consumption, given that volunteerism is as problematic as its slum tourism counterpart. Of course, the post-neoliberal frame in which Greece is asked to operate in market networks does not necessarily accommodate ethical terms on consumption of such ‘spectacles’ – in any case, a controversial move.  The very premise that the poor can benefit from work in tourism is so tightly associated with experiences of (neo-) liberal rhetoric and capitalist exploitation that radical movements such as those promoted by Syriza would shy away from it. Others may rightly point out that any sort of ‘touristification’ would not support dewesternising, decolonising projects, only strengthen the EU bondage (Mignolo 2000). And what about alternative voices?  It is additionally questionable if the current budding of urban and rural cooperatives (Nasioulas 2012) as well as a promising solidarity movement in Greece (Henley, 23 January 2015) can find profitable and fair introduction in local tourism, or support nation-wide policies of self-government in the Zapatistas model of development.

Self-governance is a scarce resource that has to be earned – in the Zapatistas’ case, with revolution that is not always peaceful or contextually advisable. But social tourism has to be for the poor and not poor in cultural resources - otherwise those in poverty join racist value hierarchies from the back door. In addition, tourism is often consigned to inessential policy prerogatives in (non)developing economies and ‘Third World’ experimentation focuses on hard industries and policies instead. But is this restructuring of local markets perhaps a partial solution - or have social and geographical inequalities in Greece deepened, irrevocably tying the mobility of its social landscapes to nodes of business and governance managed only from afar?
Baptista, J.A. (2012) ‘Tourism of poverty: The value of being poor in the non-governmental order’, in F. Frenzel, K. Koens and M. Steinbrink (eds) Slum Tourism. London: Routledge, 125-143.
Bauman, Z. (2007) Consuming Life. Cambridge: Polity.
Bearden, L. (29 May 2015) ‘British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays “awkward” in Kos’, The Independent. Available from (accessed: 23 June 2015).
Fukuyama, F. (1992) The End of History and the Last Man. New York: Free Press.
Gopal, A. (31 March 2015) ‘What austerity looks like inside Greece’, The New Yorker. Available from (accessed 23 June 2015).
Hannam, K. (2008) ‘The end of tourism? Nomadology and the mobilities paradigm’, in J. Tribe (ed.) Philosophical Issues in Tourism. Clevedon: Channel View.
Hannam, K., Sheller, M. and Urry, J., 2006. Editorial: Mobilities, immobilites and moorings. Mobilities, 1 (1), 1-22.
Henley, J. (23 January 2015)Greece’s solidarity movement: “it’s a whole new model – and it’s working”’, The Guardian. Available from (accessed 23 June 2015).
Korstanje, M.E. and Clayton, A. (2012) ‘Tourism and terrorism: conflicts and commonalities’, Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes, 4 (1): 8 – 25.
Lowen, K. (25 June 2014) ‘Tourists return as austerity-hit Greece emerges from crisis’, BBC News. Available from (accessed 23 June 2015).
Mack, N. (25 March 2012) ‘Birmingham Zorba's Flashmob - Official Video’. Available from (accessed 08 July 2015).
            Mignolo, W.D.  (2000) Local Histories/Global Designs: Coloniality, Subaltern Knowledges and Border Thinking. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.      
Nasioulas, I. (2012) ‘Social cooperatives in Greece: Introducing new forms of social economy and entrepreneurship’, International Review of Social Research, 2 (2): 141-61.
Nederveen Pieterse, J. (2006b) ‘Emancipatory cosmopolitanism: Towards an agenda’, Development and Change, 37(6): 1247-57.
No Comment TV (06 July 2015) ‘Greek referendum: “No” supporters celebrate in Athens’ streets - no comment’. Available from (accessed 08 July 2015).
Robertson, R. (1995) ‘Glocalization: time-space and homogeneity-heterogeneity’, in M. Featherstone, S. Lash and R. Robertson (eds) Global Modernities. London: Sage.
Smith, H. (27 January 2011) ‘Greek communists storm the Acropolis in bailout protest’, The Guardian. Available from (accessed 23 July 2015).
Tzanelli, R. (2011) Cosmopolitan Memory in Europe’s ‘Backwaters’: Rethinking Civility. Abingdon & New York: Routledge.
Tzanelli, R. (2015) Mobility, Modernity and the Slum: The Real and Virtual Journeys of Slumdog Millionaire. New York & Abingdon: Routledge.

Wikipedia (undated) ‘Ta Dekemvriana’. Available from (accessed 08 July 2015).
Rodanthi is currently co-authoring an article with Maximiliano Korstanje on the effects of troika policies on Greek epistemologies of well-being.

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