The price of progress

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Like it or not, the world is always changing and these changes are not always fair – whatever that might mean – or what we predicted or desired. The same can be said for the real estate market. In Halkidiki, northern Greece, for example, the custom back in the day was to endow the daughters with barren coastal fields while keeping the green and fertile land further inland for the sons. Then tourism came along – and we know who came out on top there.

Downtown Athens 30 years ago was like those beautiful but barren seaside plots in Halkidiki: snubbed in favor of the suburbs. Property values and rental rates had plummeted and even though Greece had a socialist government for two decades, not a single minister came forward to introduce a minimum rental rate. Now, thanks to tourism, values and rents have been going up in the city center, boosting the economy, breathing new life into neglected buildings, revitalizing neighborhoods etc.

This being Greece, of course, no sign of progress goes unpunished, and today we are facing increasing calls for regulations to contain the Airbnb market. People are demanding measures to stop the rise of rental rates, the same rates which had plummeted over the past decade. We are not talking about owners of short-term rentals having to pay more taxes, which is something that has already been implemented.

To be fair, the anti-Airbnb movement has been gaining momentum across Europe. The left-wing government in Berlin has frozen rental rates for five years, while similar measures are being taken in Paris, Barcelona, Prague and other popular tourism destinations. Of course, the countries in which those destinations are located did not lose 25 percent of their gross domestic product, nor did they see property prices nosedive. But the big question all of Europe needs to be asking itself is: What’s going to happen as its population gets older?

Like it or not, a continent that has no significant wealth-generating resources like Africa, a young workforce like Asia and the technological advantages of the United States has only got one thing to sell to the world: its cultural heritage, which means tourism. This is especially the case in Greece. Unless we plant a money tree, that is.

Published in eKathimerini.com 19.2.2020