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World Heritage Day 2017 and sustainable tourism. A great opportunity for Greece

What can Greece produce and sell into international markets, particularly under the current circumstances? We tend to underestimate that Greece owns a product that is unique, well known and attractive to the world’s citizens: Greece’s heritage.

  • Ancient Dodoni, one of the most important archaeological and cultural sites in Greece, Easter, 2017. Photo: TNH

Nevertheless, past and present governments and people lack a vision, the broad picture of what the country can become as a cultural tourism destination. Consequently, though desperately needed now, they don’t have a strategic plan for Greece’s future in that field.

One would argue that Greece is already a significant destination for cultural tourism, the governments are aware that culture, creating distinctive differences between destinations, can become a key tourism asset and Greeks have realized that tourism is an income opportunity. According to the World Tourism Organization (WTO), cultural tourism accounts for 37% of global tourism, and furthermore affirms that it will continue to grow 15% each year. The question is how can Greece get a bigger share of this market?

Every year, since 1982, on April 18, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) celebrates the International Day for Monuments and Sites. This year’s theme is “Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism,” chosen in relation to the United Nations International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development. International Day for Monuments and Sites 2017 offers the opportunity for ICOMOS Committees across the world to celebrate the positive outcomes of a deepening partnership between sustainable tourism development and cultural heritage conservation, and to reference the potential negative impacts.

This is the first time that ICOMOS has invited National Committees and International Scientific Committees to share and raise awareness of innovative initiatives and current best practices in the field of Cultural Heritage and Sustainable Tourism with their local communities.

For many countries and communities, cultural tourism is understood as a tourism branch that allows visitors to be immersed in local rituals and routines, taking away not only pretty photos but also shared memories of unique experiences. In many developing countries (like Morocco) tourist programs have been created that facilitate direct linkages between artisans and tourists by engaging them in handicraft activities and by connecting traditional artisans’ sale points through cultural routes. In others, particularly African countries, tourists engage in local dancing activities; local communities embrace their culture and design services and activities that boost their economy.

Cultural tourism in Greece holds the potential of a distinctive advantage: beyond our culture, it addresses heritage sites, whose values and ideas have shaped the Western Civilization. The inherited relics show the origins of many disciplines, arts and sciences of today. In their cities’ agoras, sanctuaries, and sculpture, the Greeks incorporated fundamental principles of their culture. The buildings and the sites that convey these ideas are still there. In every region of Greece there is at least one open air ancient theater and many archaeological sites. The submerged ancient cities and harbors along the coastline can become snorkeling attractions and the shipwreck sites scuba diving destinations. Nevertheless, the reality is that tourists crowd in no more that ten sites, while hundreds of other sites in Greece remain either unknown to the majority or less visited.

With global international tourist arrivals reaching one billion each year, and growth only expected to increase, opportunities in the tourism industry are endless. Yet, cultural tourism destinations are struggling in a world that is full of tourism attractions. How can the visitation of Greece as a cultural tourism destination be increased and how could we scatter tourists all over the country and draw their attention to sites other than Acropolis, Delphi, Mycenae and Olympia?

The existence of our heritage is a prerequisite for the attraction of cultural tourists, but it is not enough to increase the number of visitors. Greece needs a strategic plan to reach the potential clients. Even more importantly, potential clients will not be able to find Greece’s interesting destinations without the correct combination of tourism marketing strategies, dynamic communication tools and sites promotion through digital technology. Besides marketing planning for partnerships and networking would it be so difficult or so expensive for EOT offices and Greek Consulates around the world to organize monthly events presenting less known heritage destinations of Greece? There is a human capital of experts in Greece and abroad that would be willing to serve this purpose. Classical and Modern Greek Departments exist in many Universities all over the world and almost every developed country has an archaeological school of Philhellenes excavating in Greece. A reception with olive oil dips and a glass of Greek wine would make the experience more inviting.

Next to our heritage, our attitudes towards the xenos, our hospitality, and kerasma (offering) are of immeasurable value to visitors. Sustainable values that can contribute to sustainable growth and quality of life.

The National Herald

By Dimitra Pontoporou

World Heritage Day 2017 and sustainable tourism. A great opportunity for Greece – The National Herald