New Democracy Will Let Hotel Owners Seize Public Beaches

ATHENS – Seaside hotels now being allowed to lease part of public beaches reserved for their paying guests will be able to confiscate them for their own use under legislation being drafted by the ruling New Democracy’s Tourism Ministry.

The bill would let seaside hotels and luxury resorts keep out the public from public beaches to let the hotel owners use the beaches only for commercial reasons instead of being limited to the area they had been leasing, said Kathimerini.

In places like the Aegean islands of Crete, Kos and Rhodes where large stretches of the coast are already given over to successive hotel units, this means the public will have to pay the hotels a fee to use public beaches as well as to rent umbrellas and sun loungers.

This gives the hotels a monopoly on the public beaches similar to what has happened on Athens’ southern coast where successive governments have either allowed or looked the other way to have public beaches commandeered by private interests as well.

While hotels are allowed to lease a section of the beach adjacent to their facility and develop it for commercial use with loungers, bars, restaurants or watersports facilities, the new legislation seeks to lift restrictions on these leases, said the New Democracy-friendly newspaper in an unusual shot at the government.

The measure also increases the surface area of a beach that can be developed by a non-hotel business from 40% to 50% and raises the cap on the size of facilities offering amenities from 300-500 square meters (3,230-5,382 square feet.)

The ministry defended the decision to give away public beaches and public land without the state getting any reported benefits by saying the hotels have made “significant investments and are a key element of the country’s tourism development.”

Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is keen to get tourism going again in the wake of the fading COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic, setting a July 1 target with hotels reopening under strict hygiene protocols.

His government’s bill would, in effect, extend giveaways to developers and hotel and business owners of public property and beaches with Athens having almost no municipal swimming pools, leaving people – especially children – with no place to go in the summer.

Organized public beaches still open to the public, now disappearing, will for the summer be required to separate users by at least 4 meters (14.13 feet) between umbrellas while swimmers and beachgoers are supposed to stay at least 1.5 meters (4.92 feet) apart, limiting beach use.

The bill also would, under the so-called Integrated Tourism Development Areas (POTA) to incorporate public forest land, roads, streams or plots in the calculation of their total surface area to get around zoning restrictions, a plan blasted by environmentalist as a New Democracy giveaway to developers.