Greece is already known as a tourism destination. German municipalities are cooperating with Greek counterparts to boost this potential.
German municipalities and regional governments are offering their know-how to help counterparts in Greece during crisis times. The initiative, started half a year ago, seeks to bring politicians and experts together to learn from each other.
In Germany, the project is headed by Deputy Labor Minister Hans-Joachim Fuchtel, who is working on the Greek side with the mayor of Thessaloniki, Jannis Boutaris. The project is still in its meetings phase, although a recent conference - one of 10 planned to run through fall - reflected potential, particularly for tourism.
Exchange of experience
The session, held in the northern Greek city of Kavala, dealt with how tourism could be further developed in Greece. Tourism already contributes significantly to the Greek economy.
Participants discussed expanding the tourism season and the possibility of offering something beyond the sun, sea and sand that currently dominate the summer months. Tourism should be boosted in national parks, for example - which can even promote environmental protection, said Andreas Pusch, head of the mountainous Harz National Park in eastern Germany.
In order to achieve this, Pusch said, officials must work together with local residents and tourists toward goals appropriate for the natural surroundings. In the Harz, Pusch described, this entailed development of a diverse program that offers education, information, exhibits, a museum and a youth-oriented forest facility to millions of visitors every year.
Nikos Avtzis, who directs the a national park covering part of the Rhodope Mountains in northern Greece, indicated great interest in collaborating, and discussed the possibility of an exchange program for park guards.
Gabriela Schreiner, a member of the recently formed tourism committee of Prespes in the tripartite border region of Greece-Albania-Macedonia, lamented the lack of cooperation between tourism agencies, municipalities and private tourism initiatives. Tourism professionals need better training, she said, and the public transportation system and border crossings needed to be developed.
A Viennese living for 20 years in Greece, Schreiner recalled when the region presented itself at a German tourism fair in 2003: The slogan "Three countries, two lakes, one goal" was well received. But the fact that a tourist would have to travel long distances to cross national borders in order to get between Greek, Albanian and Macedonian locations only a few kilometers apart as the crow flies, put a damper on enthusiasm for tourism in the region.
Prespes wants to work with German municipalities in the Lake Constance region, where the borders of Germany, Switzerland and Austria meet.
Penetrating new markets
Expansion of agritourism, or drawing visitors to farms or orchards, was another topic at the meeting. For example, tourism infrastructure could be built up in wine-growing regions for vineyard tours, festivals, sights, camping and health spas.
Komotini, a city in northeastern Greece, had the novel idea of offering something that's lacking in other places: tourism for the disabled. Mayor Giorgos Petridis described the market for disabled tourism as "huge," consisting of "millions of fellow citizens in Europe." But in order to attract them, Petridis added, "The travel destination has to be outfitted with the proper infrastructure."
Johann Norbert Kreiter, a consultant for tourism accessible to those with disabilities and himself a wheelchair user, sees a good potential basis for this in Komotini. Sidewalks are flat, many locations have wheelchair-accessible restrooms including the necessary ramps, while stadiums have also been modernized.
"In this respect, the first step toward accessibility has already been taken," said Kreiter.
Author: Panagiotis Kouparanis / sad
Editor: Michael Lawton