After the recent riots in Athens and all the tragic and ugly events that ensued, and the negative effect they are having on Greek tourism (thousands of cancellations at Athens hotels), the coming week could be a historic one for the Greek tourism and travel industry, and a glimmer of hope for the country as a whole. I will choose to write about this today and leave Athens for another day.
I was surprised to see that -so far at least- the Greek press hasn't woken up to the importance of the event. With the exception of a few brief articles in the financial press, most newspapers have not written anything about this yet.
So what is the big deal? The first "integrated tourism development area" (ITDA) is starting operating in the Prefecture of Messinia, in Peloponissos, southern Greece. ITDAs are a development tool envisioned in various pieces of 1990's legislation. Essentially, they are as the title says, big, integrated, tourism development projects that encompass multiple installations (hotels), sports complexes, golf courses and other facilities and receive, like most tourism investments, state grants or other forms of financial support. The ITDA in Messinia, at Navarino Bay, is the first one to start operating. It has been envisioned by a Greek shipowner named Vasillis Constantacopoulos, originating from Messinia, and has been in the works for twenty some years (!!!) with the "official" red-tape, permits-gathering phase lasting 12 years. The 1.2 billion Euro project had stalled due to the bureaucratic mess that permeates and complicates everything in Greece but also (or should I say including?) environmental concerns. Even today, as two hotels -of the total seven planned for the final phase of the project- have been completed and are about to accept clients, legal questions still linger and some people insist that the investment may have a serious detrimental effect on the natural environment. I am not in a position to answer that, but it is obvious from the company's website (http://www.costanavarino.com/) that great care has been taken into accommodating environmental concerns and make the whole complex, including the golf-courses, as eco-friendly and sustainable as they come. If not anything else, these concerns and questions, and EU environmental legislation, might have helped make the whole project a better one for that matter.
I am not a fan of "all-inclusive" resorts (is that what this is?) since I like to explore the area I visit, but my impression is that if the project itself is half as good as its website (one of the few flash websites I've seen that's really worth its money), this could ignite a revolution for Greek tourism which up until now has been mostly based on shady, mom-and-pop establishments most often lacking in many ways. It's not that big, luxury hotels, or decent, average ones, don't exist in Greece, but this project, due to its sheer size, complexity and significance, could be the turning point that would persuade Greeks that big is not necessarily evil. This could affect a number of other issues, such as the construction of tall buildings in Greece which is another no!-no! for reasons related to ignorance and lack of proper urban planning. The two hotels that open for business are The Romanos (A Luxury Collection Resort) opening on May 20, 2010 and The Westin Resort - Costa Navarino, opening on June 4, 2010. Along with them 2 golf courses have already been constructed. Greece has only had 6 golf courses up to now (including one in the Athens suburb of Glyfada).
Aegean Airlines has already started daily flights from Athens to Kalamata for this very reason and a number of charter airlines have set up routes from several European cities to Kalamata as well. Seven hundred jobs are to be created in the first phase of the project, in the complex itself alone. It'll be interesting to see how all this turns out.
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