I am a photographer and journalist from New York. I have a bit of history with Ios. To cut a long story short, I visited Ios in 1969, in 1971-72, and 1977. That second stay lasted almost seven months, during which I became friendly with some of the local people, and photographed quite a few of them. And the island took a permanent place in my heart. I am not alone in that.
However, that makes me part of a tourism process that has changed Ios dramatically, and I feel some responsibility to share my thoughts on sustainable tourism development. I don’t live or work on Ios and you have every right to tell me to mind my own business. But let me make a case.
I don’t romanticize the “old Ios” — I always understood it wasn’t some idyllic fantasy, but a real place with real-world problems and people of both good and bad motives. But generally I found the positive greatly exceeded the negative.
I have not returned to Ios for 44 years, and until recently I didn’t want to (my tourist friends from those days agree), because we have heard the stories and seen the photos of the infamous “party island” Ios had become. Those later visitors did not seem to share our feeling that we were your guests and we should respect, not abuse, your property and your society.
Thanks to the internet I have recently made some new friends among Ios residents. They are updating me on my old acquaintances from 40+ years ago, sharing my old photo portraits with their descendants, even putting me in touch with them. I say this only to show that although my understanding of Ios is of course superficial, I do still care about its present and future.
Development or Overdevelopment?
I am told that almost one-third of the island’s coastline has been sold and that plans are under way to build massive amounts of tourist infrastructure. I believe this could be a slow-motion disaster for the island.
Don’t misunderstand: I don’t want to freeze Ios as I knew it in the ‘70s or even as it is today. I am not against tourism in all forms. I have done major photojournalistic assignments for the industry, for example in India for the Indian Government Tourist Office. But the key word is scale. India is so vast, populous and complex that no amount of tourism is going to affect it much. Small islands are not like that. They are always changed, not always for the better.
In 1978 I did a photographic assignment for the Rodos Hotel Owners’ Association. At that time the island’s population was about 80,000, and Rodos received 2 million visitors each year. In parts of the island, it was completely overwhelming (see accompanying photos). But at least most development was centered in relatively few locations, leaving the rest of the island at peace. The plan for Ios, on the other hand, looks decentralized, covering large parts of the island with “private, keep out” restrictions.
In Rodos I did research. I interviewed people — tourists, locals working in the industry, the head of Rodos’s Tourist Office. I learned how the nature of today’s tourism/travel industry often demands a very high social, economic and environmental price from a “destination” in exchange for its benefits.
Be Careful What We Wish For!
There must be a future for Ios that modernizes but doesn’t involve huge corporate interests, that protects its environment and public spaces, but doesn’t change the community into a built-up playground for the world’s richest.
For that reason, I strongly support the efforts and activities of the Save Ios Association, and I hope you will too.
Note. One way to support the Association is to visit https://davidhalperin.picfair.com/albums/131460-1970s-ios-save-ios?fbclid=IwAR2BD05G84kBFwb9-C7LYon9qXLJnEM3zfoQlaFOSBOaRqqaZp19cQDme4s. There you will find photos I have made not only of “old Ios” but in other parts of Greece. I pledge that 80% of proceeds from any sales of photo prints or downloads from that album will be donated to the Save Ios Association’s legal fund.