A young Greek travel expert brings fresh wind into the regional tourism industry in the sleepy Thessalien Pilion mountains. Tourism is still an important, if not the most important pillar of the Greek economy.
The Greek tourism industry expects 28 million visitors this year. Just over a year ago, experts prophesied far poorer figures, and the forecast was correct, mainly for the holiday islands along the coast of Anatolia.
Supposed flows of asylum seekers and refugees have frightened potential holiday makers. The announcement of high tax rates and feared price increases have strongly impacted the image of Greece as an attractive holiday region. There were cancellations in the tourist pre-bookings. Also, many travel agents stopped their direct flights to the islands.
For a while, it seemed as if the country could never recover from recession. Nevertheless, tourism is still one of the debt-battered economy's promising sectors. About one-fifth of the Greek gross domestic product (GDP) is generated in the tourism industry. And one in five employees work in the travel industry.
Commitment pays off
Innovative ideas, new market strategies and private funding have attracted many travel professionals, as in the case of the entrepreneur Grigoris Fanoulas. He has experienced the crisis in the industry in Pilion, a classic destination for individual tourists.
Travelers coming here would like to experience Greece as it was several decades ago. And for that tourists are ready to dig a bit deeper into their pockets. This is why travel expert Fanoulas started 2012 with a whole new idea: the region should develop into its own brand.
Fanoulas invested 35,000 euros ($38,300) out of his own pocket, the working hours not included. For three and a half years, he looked for small farms scattered throughout Pilion. "Everyone could offer something of their own, but they did not know how to attract attention," he explained. That is why Fanoulas developed a brand name especially for this region - "LLL" - standing for "Live Like Local." It is supposed to offer the guest exactly what the name promises - live like a local.
He puts the whole offer into an attractive travel package, which each guest can book more or less individually for himself or in a group of a maximum of 10 persons. "We should not only promote projects that only fill the funds. Our idea is more of a quality, it is gentle tourism," explains the young entrepreneur. In this way he has created something which for Greeks is by no means self-evident. "The Greeks are convinced individualists. The most difficult thing was to gather everyone around the table and make it clear to them that with Live Like Local all are meant."
Greece is trendy
A few years ago, the Greek travel industry had begun with a similar mammoth project for all of Greece. For the first time in the history of the industry, an advertising company, the "Marketing Greece Group," was commissioned to develop a suitable brand name for all regions of the country. A few weeks ago, a profile was presented for Thessaly and thus also for the Pilion region.
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Titled "Thessaly - handcrafted by time," Grigoris Fanoulas' home region is to be marketed for tourism. The young businessman concludes he has invested in the right direction. "My idea was to save the traditional Pilion trades from extinction and give them a future, which has proved to be a good thing to do."
If interest continues to be so great, says Grigoris Fanoulas, his investment, which he started three years ago, will have paid off over the next three years.