Paradise island sheltered from Greek economic woes

Tourists on the idyllic island of Folegandros say they are unaffected by the unstable Greek economy, though locals fear the economic turmoil could put off future visitors.

FOLEGANDROS, GREECE (JULY 12, 2015) (REUTERS) – Tourists holidaying on the picturesque Greek island of Folegandros said on Sunday (July 12) they felt a world away from the economic battles for the country’s future raging in Brussels.

However, locals feared the turmoil could put off future visitors.

Euro zone leaders and finance ministers continued to clash at meetings in the European capital over the weekend, but the sun shone on Folegandros, home to a few hundred inhabitants and a population of donkeys who help them carry goods over the rocky island.

The local economy relies heavily on tourists attracted by the quiet beaches, winding streets and whitewashed walls on the edge of the Aegean.

The effects of capital controls which have left people queuing outside banks and ATMs elsewhere in Greece have been softened here by a constant flow of foreigners, many of whom travel with cash as the manager of the local Chora tourist office explained.

“People coming here are requested to bring cash, because of course hearing the news in all Europe, they don’t come only with their credit cards because they know they could have a problem, they have cash, so they bring cash to the island, and all these small family businesses we have here in Folegandros, it’s sufficient cash flow for the moment, so we are not suffering the problem that people think we have,” Flavio Facciolo told Reuters TV.

With only two cashpoints on Folegandros, visitors have always been advised not to rely on plastic and the flow of money has helped businesses pay staff and suppliers.

Facciolo said foreign visitor numbers are stable compared with last year but that the island is also popular with Greeks who have been hit by rocketing unemployment and an economy which has shrunk by a quarter since the crisis began.

Businesses reliant on local trade are suffering, Facciolo said, and many who work in the tourist industry, including small business owner Irene, say foreigners too could be put off by the cloud of uncertainty hanging over the Greek economy.

“People work with the tourists and if there is not, there is nothing, everything is closed, no money, no nothing, no ships, no… I am afraid of this,” Irene said from the kitchen of her small restaurant.

If there were to be a banking collapse, Facciolo says Folegandro would be hit hard and it remained to be seen whether reservations for the month of September would hold up.

But for now the visitors remained bewitched by the cobbled streets of the little port of Chora and did not express any fears of instability.

Danish tourist Michela said she had considered cutting short her trip, but that nothing on the island hinted at the economic woes rocking the country.

“We haven’t noticed anything in fact, not at all. It has been no problems whatsoever. The boats have been going as they said and there has been food in restaurants, and in fact we haven’t noticed anything.”

Belgian tourist Xavier said Folegandros felt entirely cut off, and that was its charm.

“We feel totally disconnected, a kind of magical place that lives in a time far away from all those crises, and that is exactly what we like about it,” he said.