Thousands of young travelers take to the beaches of Greece each year to find sun, fun and increasingly wreak havoc. But could the death of a US tourist mean the party is over? Anthee Carassava reports from Athens.
Bakari Henderson had never been to Greece. But fresh out of college, the aspiring US entrepreneur traveled to Zakynthos this month, picking the island's dramatic limestone cliffs and beautiful beaches as the most befitting backdrop to showcase an environmentally-friendly clothing line he was set to launch later this year.
Victim of violence
Just days after arriving, the 22-year old was brutally beaten to death by a mob of mainly Serbian tourists, as the native of Austin, Texas was out on the town of Laganas, celebrating his photo-shoot project with a pair of friends and colleagues.
The motives and circumstances surrounding the deadly attack remain unclear. By some accounts, a brawl ensued as Henderson attempted to take a selfie with a waitress at the bar; others say tempers flared after the college graduate set a bottle of beer on a table seating the group of Serbs.
Whatever the reason, the tragic incident sent shock waves across the country. Worse yet, captured by security cameras and then played out on the internet and international media outlets, the grisly attack marred the start of Greece's peak tourist season. Many people have been left wondering why Laganas and other popular party hotpots are turning toxic.
"We used to have a firm grip on the situation here," said Laganas' deputy mayor, Nikitas Theodosis. "But now it's out of control."
Locals blame foreign tour operators for luring droves of 18-to-30-year-olds to the island on cheap package deals promising unruly, hedonistic holidays fueled by binge-drinking, risky sexual encounters and non-stop partying. "Once the clock strikes midnight," Theodosis told DW, "anything goes. It's dicey."
And, it's scary.
Scaring tourists away
With tourism the only money-making business left in financially-crippled Greece, officials fear Henderson's death could scare visitors away, with the country portrayed as an unsafe holiday destination.
"Greece is going through trying times and this incident sheds a bad light on tourism in Greece," Nicholas Kontis, a travel journalist, told DW. "[But] will people stop coming? No. It is an isolated incident, but nonetheless Greece can't have this."
With more than 100 bars lining a mile-long strip of neon-nightlife, Laganas is already boasting a 28 percent increase in visitors this year. But still suffering under a financial crisis, which is now in its seventh year, authorities have few resources with which to manage the mayhem. Budget cuts have shut down a local police precinct, leaving less than half a dozen officers to patrol the strip. A shortage of state chemists has also halted the routine testing of potentially tampered alcohol.
In May this year, a British holidaymaker revealed that she ended up blind and suffering from severe kidney failure after consuming drinks spiked with anti-freeze at a popular Laganas bar. The 20-year-old girl said she had eight vodka cocktails on an organized bar crawl.
Authorities contacted by DW this week refused to release detailed accounts of recent cases. Still, officials and locals said the tragedies in the last years show a dark and dangerous side to the island's party scene, eclipsing its once serene reputation.
However, these issues are not particular to Zakynthos. Other Greek islands facing similar problems have decided to take matters into their own hands and are striking back.
In Kavos, Corfu, locals have launched a Facebook campaign, shaming hordes of foreign visitors descending onto their town by documenting their misbehaviour. Pictures posted on the social media page feature wasted, half-naked tourists passed out on the streets or slumped over toilets.
In Mallia, Crete, a party destination hugely popular among young British and Dutch travelers, hoteliers are turning down reservations by so-called party-hard-travel-operators. At least 10,000 hotel bookings have been blocked to date, giving priority to family-oriented German and Austrian families instead, authorities say.
Local businesses have also joined forces and have taken to employing private security patrols to monitor trouble-making crowds.
"It's high time we reclaim our prize tourist product," Efthymios Moutrakis, deputy mayor of Mallia, told DW. "We've given these tour operators a free hand in branding the image of our town for far too long. It has got to stop."
But it won't change overnight. Just days after the tragic attack on Henderson in Zakynthos, an 18-year-old British girl fell into a coma after inhaling laughing gas during a night out at the infamous resort of Malia. Her condition, doctors say, remains critical.