top of page
  • hbanziger

F - 23 : No Boeing 737 - No Greek nor Turkish Beach Holidays

The Turkish Coast just east of Dalaman Airport in South-Western Anatolia

Recently found three photos from my first trip to Greece in 1973. My girlfriend and I had rail passes for Europe for the month of July, two bright orange backpacks, a tent and pocket money from summer jobs the year before. Over night we travelled via Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade to Sofia before crossing into Greece. The trip took two nights and one day.

Leaving a Back-Pack in the Middle of a Town Square was safe - Nobody had Money

As luck had it, we run straight into the mobilization of the Greek Army. Turkey and Greece were on the brink of war over Cyprus. There were no trains, no busses, and no news. We were stranded for a good week on a camping place next to Thessaloniki airport. We watched as it was militarized. It was a bit scary – specifically when they installed Hawk air defense missiles. After a week, the spook was over. The Greek military dictatorship was toppled by massive protests in Athens. People celebrated in the streets and we took the first night train to Athens to take a ferry to Naxos.

There were no Express Ferries yet - since we could not afford a Cabin we travelled on Deck

Travelling to Naxos today is different. You catch a plane. 2 ½ hours later you arrive. The hotel is pre-booked on-line. The booking sites tell you, which are the must-visit places and where you get the best food. Still remember how we disembarked in the soaring midday heat not knowing where we would sleep and eat. When we could not find a room we slept on the beach but sand is hard; never our preferred option. Of course we spoke no Greek and people in Naxos no English. We ordered food by going to the kitchen and pointing at the pots! Today, you book your tour, deck chair and restaurant from the comfort of your home. Everybody does the same. That’s the reason some of these places are so crowded.

One of the Must-See Sunset Places in Santorini - Sunsets are beautiful everywhere though

Tried to find the number of tourists who visited Greece in 1973. Found only data for the last 25 years: 10.7 million in 1995. The number in 2019, the last year before Covid, reached 34.7 million. With USD 23.0 bn revenue (2019), tourism accounts for 10% of Greece’s GDP. This is the reason why the sharp drop during the Covid years was so painful. On average, a tourist spends USD 675 in Greece. I guess that the number of visitors in 1973 was less than 5 million. It was too time consuming to get to Greece or too expensive to fly. As students we had – of course – no money. We had to take the train or stay home.

Number of Visitors to Greece - after Turkey opened in 2000, Tourism stagnated

Turkey was in a comparable situation in the 1980s but is quite different today. With 7.7 million tourists in 1995, it had less visitors than Greece. 25 years later, in 2019, the number climbed to 51.7 million. Tourist revenues totaled USD 41.5 bn in 2019 but contribute only 5% to iGDP. Turkey is less dependent on tourist receipts since it successfully diversified its economy over the last 30 years.

Annual Tourism Income in Turkey from 2001 to 2021 in USD

Remarkable, Turkey also earns more USD per tourist than Greece. A tourist in Turkey spends on average USD 800. It may be due to the fact that Greece has a greater share of back packers who decamp on remote islands spending little. Turkey is known for its splendid resorts – let’s make an exception for the beaches around Antalya – and the Gullet tourism, which both generate high revenues. Turkey ranks now as No 6 in the league table of tourism. Greece is on place 13. Both lure their visitors with similar images. Beaches, turquoise waters, sun, ancient sites. The countries are siblings.

The Volkswagen was one of the first European Campers - and became very popular in the US

Mass tourism is a function of disposable income, paid holidays and the possibility to travel. The South of France, Italy and Spain were the first beneficiaries of tourism in Europe. By the early 1960, workers got two or three weeks of paid holidays. My dad - as an engineer - had three. The salaries kept rising and we could afford a car in 1966 – as most other people did. A Pan-European network of high ways was under construction, copying US President Eisenhower’s Highway Initiative. But this still left Greece and Turkey out. They were not yet linked to Europe's highways and could not be reached by car. For families with children, a 48-hour train ride to go on holiday was a stressful idea – at that was just one way!

Opening of the gap in the Hansa Highway near Bremen in Germany in 1968

It was technology that opened Greece and Turkey for Tourism. For decades, both had big plans to develop tourism but they stayed mostly on paper. Without the ability of bringing people to the country, any plan was dead on arrival. Luckily the American aerospace industry solved the problem. McDonnell Douglas introduced its famous DC-9 short-haul plane in 1965. Almost 1’000 were built. Boeing followed a bit later in 1967 with its B-737. It became the workhorse for short distance flying. Variations of it are still being built as I write. Over the last 55 years, more than 11’000 planes were made. These two planes together with the liberalization of the airline industry made all the difference. Prices dropped and capacity became available.

A Boeing 737, the Short-Haul Workhorse of most Airlines - this picture is from 1968

A silent and seldom named partner in the development of Turkish and Greek tourism was NATO, the western defense alliance. Since early jet fighters and bombers were fuel hungry machines and standoff missiles not yet invented, airfields had to be located forward, close to the Soviet Union. Both Greece and Turkey built airfields with long runways in the 1950s and 1960s, which were later repurposed for tourism. Good examples are the airport in Thessaloniki, which I mentioned before, and the Dalaman airport in southwestern Anatolia. If you ever land there, have a look out of the window. The concrete shelters for fighter jets still line the tarmac.

Dalaman Airport on Google Maps - the old Jet Fighter Shelters are to the left

Tourism has come a long way and what we are going to see this summer in Turkey and Greece is the result of decades of building infrastructure, training people and technology. Both countries would not preserve their cultural heritage and their environment so actively without tourism. The business of holiday brings people and cultures together. I hope it stays this way, The risk is clearly that we do not talk to local people any longer since we now can book everything on-line. As always, nothing beats dialogue and a friendly chat.

The Beach Umbrellas were less sophisticated in the 1970 but still fun

32 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page