Mykonos’s New-Money Party Scene: The Tragedy of Mass Tourism, Part 1

In Mykonos, la vie bohème has become more than a little bourgeois.

Today, tourist may as well be a four-letter word. In its most innocuous form, “tourist” conjures images of fanny packs slung over sizable fannies and inconspicuous tanlines worn like literal scarlet letters. At worst, “tourist” drips with capitalist innuendo and consumerist exploitation. Of course, not all tourism is created equal, but there is an epidemic of mass, low-quality tourism breaking out in the world’s most beautiful destinations and dynamic cities, and it’s destroying them bit by bit.

The Tragedy of Mass Tourism is a multi-part series that explores the downside of mass tourism as experienced by HEREYOUARE writers.

From the slow-walkers who are the bane of every Manhattan-dweller’s existence to the mouth-breathers with selfie-sticks at the Plaza San Marco in Venice, this kind of human pollution arrives on foreign soil, primed to pillage it. And because so many of these places have economies that rely in part, if not entirely on tourism, local communities are often left with no choice but to cater to the tastes and needs of foreigners, when one would think it would be the other way around. You didn’t travel halfway around the world to eat at McDonald’s… or did you?

The Tragedy of Mass Tourism is a multi-part series that explores the downside of mass tourism as experienced by HEREYOUARE writers. In a world where air travel has never been cheaper or more accessible, how do we protect against the deleterious effects of globalization? Can we avoid the seemingly inevitable ecological, economic and cultural repercussions of a global travel system that caters to the lowest common denominator? And perhaps most importantly, what can tourists do to become more conscientious travelers?

Ever since Mykonos was featured on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, tourism on the island has boomed.

I’m Greek on my father’s side, and like most Greeks, I go to Greece every year. But unlike most Greeks, I go to Mykonos and have been since I was 7, and my parents have been going since the mid-70s. Now, you must think I’m an asshole because the truth is a lot of people who go to Mykonos nowadays are assholes. That’s why a lot of Greeks hate Mykonos– it has become the Vegas of the Cyclades, catering largely to the world’s jet-set who are proof of the fact that money doesn’t buy taste. How did it happen? I blame the Kardashians and Instagram.

 

Enjoying Greece with @brodyjenner @kourtneykardash @krisjenner

Une publication partagée par Kim Kardashian West (@kimkardashian) le

 

Ever since Mykonos was featured on Keeping Up With the Kardashians, tourism on the island has boomed. To be fair, it was always a party island. As the saying goes, “Santorini is for lovers, Mykonos is for players.” But what was once a bohemian mecca of sexual liberation, without a sewage system and shoddy electricity, has become a coveted Instagram location tag, and not for the same reasons.

Psarou’s become some Greek version of Bagatelle, complete with $30 cocktails and the occasional champagne shower from a neighboring table.

Take Nammos for example, the very chichi (and arguably delicious) restaurant at Psarou beach. People don’t even call the beach Psarou anymore, they simply call it “Nammos,” because that’s the only reason anyone goes there anymore. Before Nammos, Psarou was a quaint fisherman’s beach known for its shallow waters–now polluted because of all the yacht parking in the area– and was frequented almost exclusively by Greek families. Now it’s become some Greek version of Bagatelle, complete with $30 cocktails and the occasional champagne shower from a neighboring table.

 

 

The tourism economy of Mykonos is particular for the fact that it pits money against culture, and demonstrates the fact that “low-quality tourist” isn’t a socio-economic identity. As the island has grown to accommodate the luxurious and global tastes of its foreign patrons, local businesses and ways of life are being exterminated one by one. There were no mega, international chain stores on the island when I was a child. Over the years, I’ve watched them metastasize like cancer: first Starbucks, then Victoria’s Secret and Sephora. And forgive me for sounding like an I-liked-it-before-it-was-cool, elitist hipster, but the beauty of Mykonos in its heyday was the fact that no one cared to wear makeup. They were too busy having a great time without feeling the need to hashtag it.

The bottles-and-models approach to a good time isn’t indigenous to the island, it’s a foreign import

This kind of “destination gentrification,” if you will, is somewhat inevitable. For the struggling Greek economy, tourism in 2017 was projected to account for 20% of the national GDP, with 1 in 5 jobs created in the tourism sector. I don’t blame the Mykonians for going where the money is, but I do blame the tourists who go there and perpetuate the idea that a certain kind of fun is the only kind of fun to be had on the island. The bottles-and-models approach to a good time isn’t indigenous to the island, it’s a foreign import, and it has replaced the come-one-come-all ethos for which Mykonos was once known. Once upon a time, you could tan tits out (or more) and not worry about your parts showing up on some travel blogger’s Instagram feed.

Louis Vuitton Store, Mykonos

Louis Vuitton Store in Mykonos by Mathieu Lebreton (Flickr Creative Commons)

Psarou isn’t the only casualty. I’ve watched Taverna Antonini, the oldest taverna on the island, shutter its doors and Hakkasan open. Fucking Hakkasan. If I wanted a side of nightclub with my overpriced Cantonese food, I’d go to their Times Square location in Manhattan, not Chora in Mykonos. Pierros, the island’s first gay bar and global bastion of LGBTQ culture closed after a near 40-year run. It’s much less divey replacement, Jackie O isn’t the same, because Pierros stood for something more than just a good time. The new “it” gay bar has a location in the historic town of Mykonos and a shoreside location at Super Paradise beach. The latter attracts individuals of all sexual proclivities. The parties are incredibly posh, and the ambiance is terribly chic, but it fails to make the same kind of social statement that Pierros did. Perhaps that’s because you didn’t need deep pockets to enjoy Pierros, just a free spirit.

We’re at risk of losing the cultural nuances and differences that make destinations like Mykonos such magical places to visit in the first place

Despite these tragic losses, I refuse to believe that Mykonos is dead, just in the way that I refuse to believe that Manhattan has suffered a similar fate. On both islands, there are still places you can go to have a more authentic experience, but we have to protect them. We have to celebrate the man peddling nuts and handmade moccasins in the street with the same eagerness we snap a selfie at Scorpios. If we don’t, we’re at risk of losing the cultural nuances and differences that make destinations like Mykonos such magical places to visit in the first place. And if we don’t? My fear is that no matter where you go in the world, whether it’s New York City or an island in the Aegean, there you’ll be.

Cover Picture Courtesy of Mathieu Lebreton (Flickr Creative Commons)

Julia Reiss is a Los Angeles-born writer and humorist alive and mostly well in New York City.
  • DollyDog1

    Good article but this is Europe all over. There are other islands in the group that have not been so plagued. In London where I live foreign money of the hiding from the tax man kind as opposed to tourists is running locals out of town due to house prices. It is life and it is change. In this case not all change for the good.

  • We will discuss how mass tourism empties local city centers in the next article of the series 😉

  • DollyDog1

    excellent, but remember whilst AirB&B plays a role it is not the dominant role in many world cities such as London.

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