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Greek lawmakers are finally moving forward to embrace alternative tourism as a means of driving premium visitors to Greece local communities. With the right investment and innovation, Greece’s tourism industry could soon get a huge booster shot from the sport and other special interest travelers.

News last week of Secretary-General for Tourism Policy and Development George Tziallas’ address before at the 6th Conference on “Development Prospects for Western Greece” is filtering down to decisionmakers on the local level. Tziallas, who emphasized to conference goers the significance sporting events can have on local economies, used the upcoming 2019 Mediterranean Beach Games as a template for developing special interest tourism all over Greece. He also outlined for decisionmakers a new law in the works that define thematic and special interest tourism by category, also outlines the basic principles of sport, recreation, adventure, and other alternative tourism.

With the goal of promoting internationally select Greek destinations as home fields for coming mass appeal sports tourism events, Tziallas and other officials are now focused on leveraging unique experiences that can help generate more interest in Greece as a prime niche market. So far Greek communities have only benefitted from smaller events and enthusiastic local entrepreneurs like Petros Bouchoris, who is CEO of Runningreece, a company making travel and registration arrangements for various marathons and other running events. Before the most recent governmental initiatives, it has people like Bouchoris who shoulder most of the weight of organizing local communities, hoteliers, and tourism stakeholders to support sports tourism initiatives.

According to Bouchoris and others focused on the niche, past and current local sports tourism initiatives are created for the fun and enthusiasm, rather as a profit-based enterprise. In my own experience reporting on the recent Psiloritis Race on Crete, I know organizer Andreas Andrulidakis’ sole motivation over the years has been the love or running and of Crete. Only this year’s event has approached profitability, but it’s my guess this is about to change. I’m also better on Crete and Greece overall benefitting from visitors who are not booking cheap all-inclusive tours.

It’s also significant to note here that Greek main opposition New Democracy (ND) leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis was just in Crete speaking about the need to put an emphasis on quality tourism, culture and the agri-food sector, and other more profitable and sustainable tourism products. But the disproportionate mix of Greece tourists is a subject for another report. Returning to Tziallas and the current situation, he says there are plans for promoting year-round tourism, as well as for specialized tourism studies and training in special interest and thematic tourism for small business operators. And this leads to the larger frame for a prime tourism expansion for Greece.

A discussion I had a few weeks ago with Crete’s parliamentarian, Nikos Igoumenidis brings to the forefront the complicated nature of developing an expanded Greek tourism industry. A case in point being sustainability and the macro-touristic product. When I asked Igoumenidis about the potential for certain kinds of alternative tourism for local communities on Crete, the noted cardiologist and tourism expert framed the situation so:

In order to properly address your question, it is crucial to insist on a persistent and stable preventive policy in order for tourism consumption to also feed other areas, especially domestic production.”

Igoumenidis went on to point out the resonating message he’s been broadcasting to travelers and travel providers, that “Beyond the sun and the sea, there are also the local Cretan products.” And this is perhaps the most important facet of this alternative tourism discussion. Beyond the simplicity of providing lip service and political initiatives, there’s the hard practicality of an integrated Greek tourism strategy. For the long-term decision makers will need to do more than promote “one of” events to drive tourism euros to this or that community. Mass sports events that disrupt the sustainability process will leave communities worse off than having no alternative events at all.

I’ll keep you appraised on events in this space as they unfold.


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