Now that the peek tourist season has passed, it is the right time to examine all sides of the tourist development issue in our area. We need to look at the reasons why tourist development has become a necessity and why it needs to continue in the long term. We also need to look at the dangers that undermine the growth of tourist development.
Ever since the name “Mani” appeared in history as a self-governed area, there has been a production deficit. The yields on the land have always been poor, and were never sufficient to support its inhabitants, who were as a result forced to find other means of survival. At different times there have been different ways to supplement family income. In the past, some Maniots made the extra money necessary for their family’s survival by becoming members of mercenary armies and plundering. Others became pirates who profited from looting and charging ransoms for the release of prisoners.
After the creation of the modern Greek state and the transition from war to peace, the production deficit was dealt with by finding other means for survival, the most common being the temporary move during spring or summer to the neighbouring regions of Messinia and Laconia. There the Maniots worked as seasonal workers, cultivating, collecting and packaging various agricultural products. (It is worth mentioning here that the massive immigration to the USA at the beginning of the 20th century was caused mainly because of the disruption in the exports of raisins and by the subsequent negative impact on viniculture). In addition, the preferential appointment of Maniots to Armed Forces positions, which had started already during the reign of King Otto (see article on p. 2 of our current issue) continued for many decades and became not only a way of diverting the warfare skills of the Maniots to the military needs of the modern Greek state, but also a means of relieving the population surplus of our area.
At the end of the 1940-50 decade, after ten years of foreign occupation and civil war, Mani was exhausted and overwhelmed. The population had diminished and the production deficit became even worse, because the land had been neglected during the years of war. A new immigration wave started towards Australia and Western Europe, to countries that needed to satisfy the labour needs of their industries. The depletion of Mani’s population became so severe, that many people believed that the Maniot agglomerations would be deserted. It was during the decades of 1980 and 1990 that a few people started to believe that Mani’s resources had not been exhausted, and that the nature, the climate and the cultural monuments of the region could attract visitors and create a new source of wealth for our area. These characteristics of Mani,as well as the increase in the living standard of the European and American middle class, attracted more and more visitors and led to the tourist development of Mani. After basic improvements in the road and water infrastructures of our area, private initiative was awakened. Small businessmen started to invest in tourism in order to respond to increasing interest in Mani by tourist agents. (It would have been much better if the political leaders of the time had passed strict legislation regarding the usage of land, so that the private tourist infrastructure of that time had been of better quality).
In a final analysis, it was the tourist development that gave the younger generations of Maniots the opportunity to supplement their agricultural income and to stay at their place of birth, without immigrating to a foreign land. These young people have become today the keepers of the Maniot traditions and the guardians of our cultural monuments. They introduce our philo-Maniot visitors to the way of life of our ancestors. However, at an epoch of globalisation, competition and volatility of the international financial balance, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels. We need to find ways, so that the public investment in infrastructure will reach the corresponding high level of the private investment in our area. This can only be achieved in one way: with common goals, common planning and cooperation. If we are successful in this, then we will also succeed in improving the financial balance in our region.…