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Santorini suffers under tourism boom

- by Andy Cornish

Santorini may be pulling in the holiday visitors; the problem is where to put them all.

Tourism leaders on the popular Greek island are delighted and the steady rise in international arrivals at the island airport – up more than a third year on year.

And they are flying in greater numbers too with a 400% rise in holiday visitors to the island over the past five years.

But the influx has triggered a massive increase in hotel and apartment building on the small island, and not everyone is happy with the results.

Santorini mayor, Nicos Zorsos, says he is, of course, pleased at the soaring popularity with visitors but describes the hotel building on the island as 'excessive'.

It follows reports that the number of hotel beds on Santorini now is 990 per square kilometre, a number greater than many popular holiday resorts on mainland Greece.

The rise in visitor numbers is not confined to the regular summer season. Arrivals in October were 'exceptional' as Santorini markets itself as an all-year-round destination.

The tourist season on the island of Santorini now extends from March until Christmas, and more than two million tourists visit each year.

But the downside is that around 140 new hotels are poised to open their doors over the winter, helping to make Santorini one of the most crowded islands in the Cyclades.

Not all holidaymakers are staying on the island as cruise ships can thousands of visitors each day – around 15,000 daily at the height of the summer.

Up-market fashion boutiques, stylish coffee shops and fancy restaurants have mushroomed to cash in on the tourist trade.

Goodies on offer include helicopter flights over the caldera, luxury boat hire and scuba diving lessons.

It's all good for the island economy but some fear over-exploitation and the loss of valuable rural land. In particular is the threat to the vineyards for which the island is famous.

Santorini currently has 2,700 hectares of vineyards and the volcanic soil produced some award-winning wines with the industry providing jobs and significant revenues.

But the island building boom and encroaching hotels could see precious vines dug up to make for holiday apartments and boutique hotels.

Santorini, also known as Fira, is one of the Cyclades group of Greek islands and has long been one of the top holiday hotspots in the Greek Islands.

The volcanic island has villages of white-cube houses perched on top of a sheer cliff face, giving dramatic views of the massive caldera.

Islets in the centre of the caldera are still active and the offshore fumes give rise to some of the most dramatic sunsets to be found anywhere in the world.

Santorini is also a favourite port of call for Mediterranean cruise ships that ferry in visitors by the thousand while the island airport gets thousand of charter flights over the long holiday season.

Despite it's popularity, this is not a great island for beaches. Most are found on the south-east coast and are made up of gritty, grey and black volcanic sand that can sizzle in the summer heat.

But the clifftop villages in the west are picture postcard stuff with white cube houses dotted with blue domed churches while glitzy boutiques and classy restaurants cater to the well-heeled visitors.