The latest resort

Why did the international media get so hot under the collar about the antics of drunk British teenagers in Faliraki?

Peter Smith

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Live TV reports from Faliraki, on the Greek island Rhodes, have confirmed what we all know: 18- to 25-year-olds get drunk and act the goon on holiday.

The recent ‘Holiday Hell’ headlines are said to be caused by the holidaymakers themselves, rather than some rip-off travel agent or salmonella from the hotel buffet. These shock-horror news stories came during a rerun of ITV1’s Faliraki-based reality TV show Club Reps, which followed the lives of British holiday-workers at the resort. From the coverage this one village has received over August, you could be fooled for thinking that there were more hacks sunning themselves in Rhodes than holidaymakers. As the summer has gone on, the stories have become more lewd by the day.

As ever separating fact from fiction is more difficult. No doubt some Brits (and Germans and Scandinavians, we may add) have overdone it in Faliraki, which has understandably angered the locals. But does this really warrant the hysterical international response?
The recent stories have moved on from the reports of the fracas that led to one man’s tragic death earlier in August, to diaries of drunken excess. When Jemma Gunning was arrested and fined 2500 Euros (£1750) for baring her breasts in a ‘Miss Bottom 2003’ contest held in a bar, she became a tabloid stereotype over night. The local judge was moved to declare that the incident was ‘an insult to Greek values’. Maybe: but Ms Gunning is only 18; and the incident happened at 4am in the Bed Rock Bar – a Flintstones theme bar decked out like the cartoon characters’ house. This was hardly a quiet local bar with easily offended sensibilities.

Mathew Malone, 20, from south Wales, was sentenced to jail for a year by the same court before being freed after paying a 3000 Euros (£2100) fine. He was accused of mooning in one of Faliraki’s main streets on the first day of his holiday, which was booked with Club 18-30. Interviewed by BBC News, Mr Maloney said, ‘We had been drinking all day. We’d downed about £300 between us in beer and shorts’ (1). Price alone might put you off following Mr Maloney’s example.

Similar incidents have prompted the Greek authorities to announce that they intend to crack down on drunken behaviour, which has been welcomed by many UK newspapers. The Guardian, in temperate form, has backed the local authorities, declaring: ‘Their long-overdue attempt to end the degradation that British “booze tourism” has inflicted on their islands and culture deserves this country’s enthusiastic approval and cooperation.’ The editorial then goes on to ask what drives this ‘annual British plague’ (2).

With all the fuss and hyperbole – degradation, plague – it’s worth getting some perspective on this discussion. According to figures published in the Independent, Rhodes can expect around 460,000 visitors this year (3). In the same report, Faliraki Mayor Yiannis Latrides confirmed that 200 visitors had been arrested for being drunk and disorderly, or for drug-related offences, so far this year. While you could argue that this is 200 too many, is an arrest rate of one per 2300 revellers – 0.04 percent – the kind of problem that merits international headlines?

Southern Mediterranean holiday resorts have long been the object of scorn for those who like to think they are a bit more discerning than your average holidaymaker – think Benidorm, or Del Boy and Rodney’s holiday antics in the UK sitcom Only Fools and Horses. Unfortunately for Faliraki, this summer it has become the latest resort to be rebranded a ‘hooligan destination’.

Resorts and towns reliant on tourism always have to manage the arrival of large numbers of tourists during the summer months. Often tensions do arise, and they are worked out locally with little fuss or lasting consequence. The Spanish Costas, once the source of such ‘holiday hooligan’ stories, are now home to thousands of Britons and Northern Europeans, who either live as permanent residents or stay as temporary visitors over the summer months. Locals, newer residents and visitors live side by side without fuss. Not such a summer headline-grabber, is it?

With Faliraki we are witnessing the elevation of local tensions into major international news stories, which provide opportunities for various commentators to pontificate about drunken behaviour of which they disapprove. As a reply to these reports, we are now beginning to see stories of returning UK holidaymakers criticising their treatment at the hands of the Greek authorities (4). What in the past would have been taken as a slapped wrist for a misdemeanour could now end up as a human rights case or claim for compensation. Mr Maloney’s mother, for example, blamed the tour operators for her son’s behaviour. ‘These kids seem to be encouraged by tour operators to drink like fish and act this way’, she said (5). Really? So your son had nothing to do with it?

Faliraki might not be everyone’s idea of an ideal holiday, but nor is it necessarily the ‘holiday hell’ many commentators would have us believe. The reports over the past few weeks will be of no benefit to holidaymakers or to the hosts that rely on their trade over the summer.

Peter Smith works for a leading independent travel company

Read on:

The Decline and Faliraki of civilisation?, by Mick Hume in The Times (London)

(1) Trouser-drop tourist avoids jail, BBC News Online, 19 August 2003

(2) Rhodes to Freedom, Guardian, 21 August 2003

(3) In Faliraki, the bars fight for business, drunks fight each other and Greeks fight for decency, Terri Judd, Independent, 21 August 2003

(4) Channel 4 News Report, 24 August 2003

(5) In Faliraki, the bars fight for business, drunks fight each other and Greeks fight for decency, Terri Judd, Independent, 21 August 2003

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