I am back in Greece, a country I adore and which my family have been writing about for 130 years (See AC Bradley Aristotle’s Conception of the State 1880 – a book that I have yet to get around to myself). But here is the bad news for a country that depends on tourism for its survival. You are just not competitive. Albania is a better place to go. And, god forgive me for saying this, so too is Turkey.
My last few days have been spent in Saranda in Southern Albania and then walking south from there to Greece. Sarandra and its environs offer me sun, sea, beaches, nightclubs if I want them, peace if I want it and a pretty decent food and drink selection. Most Greek resorts offer pretty much the same. Sarandra offers me culture via Buthrint – a world heritage site (pictures coming later) which is a 40 minute and 70 Euro cents bus ride away. Most Greek resorts are far further away from Hellenic glories.
So why does Albania win? Simple. Cost. My 3 star hotel room in Sarandra had a large bathroom, a comfortable double bed and a spare single bed, wi-fi that worked, air conditioning, two balconies and a reasonable view. It cost 35 Euro a night with no extra charge for breaking a chair. My hotel room in Greece (in a fairly cheap town) has two single bed, a cramped bathroom, piss poor Wi-Fi and air conditioning plus a shockingly awful view. It is not, as was my Albanian room, in the town centre. It costs 50 Euro a night. The average price I have paid during a month in Greece has been c55 Euro a night for rooms that consistently failed to match those at the Royale at Sarandra.
My Greek salad last night in Greece was 6.5 Euro and if you chuck in a frappe and a litre of water there was no change from 10 Euro. In Albania I would have paid 2.5 Euro for the salad and no more than 5 Euro in all, possibly less. And as it happens the choice of food in Albania was greater and the price differences increase once you move to meat and fish. Quality? Albania at least matches Greece.
The Greeks I met before I went to Albania tried to scare me with stories of lawlessness and how the place was crawling with pickpockets. It strikes me that most light-fingered Albanians now ply their trade on the streets of Athens and, to a lesser extent, London and Paris. Those left back in Albania are either fat fingered or just honest. Although language was a barrier in many cases, I found the Albanians warm and friendly and prepared to work hard to please you, something you cannot always say about Greece. I guess poverty breeds a service culture of necessity. Here in Greece at the 3rd hotel out of four my Wi-Fi keeps on snapping. And once again the attitude of the staff can be summed up as “I do not give a damn.”
And so here is the rub. This year I have spent, perhaps, 10% of my break in Albania, the rest in Greece. Next year, as things stand, I (a lifelong Hellenophile) am tempted to do it the other way around. To fly cheaply to Corfu, take the ferry across and have another holiday in Albania. And in increasing numbers my fellow Northern Europeans are already voting with their wallets and opting to save money by going to Albania or, dare I say, Turkey rather than Greece. That trend will continue and so the tourist industry in Greece – already on the ropes – will find life ever more miserable.
Greece has two ways it can avert this. The hard path is to stay in the Euro and cut prices by 40%. Er… you thought austerity meant firing Civil Servants and the rest of Greece can carry on as normal? Think again my friends. You can either go for a 40% cut now or you can be starved out over many years by lack of trade. This route will cause unimaginable misery but it is how your old friends in Germany and Brussels want you to behave. The danger is that by the time you have become competitive it will be too late as I – and others will have started going to Albania or Turkey (okay, I would never do that) out of habit. And habits die hard.
Route two is to default on your debts and quit the Euro now. On day 1 my 50 Euro hotel room costs 500 drachmas. But as the drachma slumps by 40% then a 500 drachma hotel room actually only costs me 30 Euro. Most of the costs of running the hotel are in drachmas so your pain is shared with suppliers. Yes all Greeks suddenly have to pay 40% more for a German washing machine. That is the price you will pay. There will be an adjustment to your standard of living. But since Greece will again be competitive overnight you will then see a massive increase in tourist trade and, indeed, in exports of other goods. So the pain will be eased.
The people of Greece should be aware that their leaders wish to pt for path one. It will be the final ruin of your country. The longer you stay in the Euro the more your misery will pile up while in Tirana and Ankara they will thank you for your folly.