ARTICLE BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE EOT, ANGELA GERECOS
Greece is very high on the list of top destinations on the world tourist map. A country blessed with unusual natural beauty, clean seas, colourful experiences, gastronomic treasures and a vast cultural heritage.
We all know that tourism is a key link in the whole development of the parallel markets of our country, in the whole sector of the hospitality economy. And finally, this crisis came to emphasize how interdependent the sector is as its competitiveness is twice as high as the rest of the economy and with strong outward and export activity!
90% of the income of foreign tourism covers 80% of the deficit of the balance of goods as Greece has the 13th place in international arrivals and is the 5th tourist brand!
The tourist product “Greece” is the trade mark of the country. However, we have to protect the brand as a product and as a philosophy, as until now the commercial way of action has consumed both the brand and the destination itself!
The concept of sustainability, especially in the post COVID-19 era, has become entrenched in all our discussions now in all tourism panels.
And as a concept it entered the agenda of most businesses a bit abruptly, as they were asked to immediately comply with the rules established by the EU and the United Nations, which focus on sustainable development, taking into account its economic, social and environmental dimensions.
Let’s hope that all the peoples of the planet can do it together and not just talk! As today especially, it is now more than ever before imperative that we become aware of the problems that any development, especially tourism development, creates for the environment and take a series of dynamic initiatives.
At this point we must make clear the fact that sustainable tourism is not a form of tourism, on the contrary, it can characterize any type of tourism and constitutes a basic and stable point of competitiveness.
Sustainability is our ally and goes hand in hand with a positive environmental footprint, both in terms of resource management and improving the conditions of society.
Given, therefore, that tourism is putting suffocating and increasing pressure on the environment, nature and local culture, it is obvious that its global development could no longer continue without planning and organisation.
The relationship between tourism as a source of wealth and the economy is now crucial, especially in the post-COVID-19 era, and requires the rational management of tourism resources so that they are used without being exhausted.
Besides, even before COVID-19 we knew and observed a change both from tourism operators, organisations, governments and educational programmes. A shift in tourism from its “hard”, traditional form to more soft forms.
Thus, in recent years the need for an “environmentally friendly” tourism is a point of intersection, especially now that the crisis has acted as an accelerator of change, towards a shift towards quality rather than quantity.
Mass tourism will not be abolished but it must change and enrich itself with more qualitative indicators in its quiver.
Sustainable and sustainable development, the digital technological structure as well as upgrading necessary infrastructure such as in the health sector will be of great concern from now on!
Waste management, liquid waste management, energy management and its adequacy, water management, urban management, ports, beaches, safe roads are key elements if we want to talk about a durable and sustainable tourism!
And it is these same elements that first and foremost make living sustainable for the very inhabitants of a place!
Any business, country, destination that lags behind in digital upgrading organisation will now have a huge competitive disadvantage! Businesses that innovate, businesses that want to be competitive internationally, will be the winners in this battle.
We now well understand that outdated systems add costs to our operations, to functionality and delay positive results. We need modernisation and flexibility but also training!
In other words, “smart” tourism is necessary for better and more efficient management, as it unlocks the value of trapped data and saves both time and money!
We are dealing with an environment with constant high demands and competitive prices full of challenges and we have to have tools!!
Thus, the development of tourism with the three pillars of environmental, economic-social and digital activity active in order to ensure the utilization and protection of natural resources, so as not to cause damage to the environment, undermining the future of future generations, is already here!
And with constant, environmental quality as a priority, the potential tourist development of our country will be strengthened with greater balance.
Certainly, we still have a future ahead of us compared to other countries, but I believe that in recent years there has been significant growth and we see in many sectors of our economy steady steps towards changing environmental behaviour, both at individual and collective level.
So we say yes to the changes that tourism activities can potentially cause, as long as they do not damage any relationships between people and the environment.
And with the basic criterion that any tourism development in any region must be in harmony with its natural elements, its location, its specificity, its culture, and not have cumulative adverse effects over time for both its inhabitants and visitors.
By upgrading a multitude of tourism options, such as rural, gastronomic, wine, religious, spa, sports and winter tourism, attempting to re-approach and couple the tourist experience with other, productive or cultural activities, we are getting closer and closer to our goal that all stakeholders have been discussing for so many years, the extension of the tourist season!
Competitiveness comes through the interconnection and cooperation of stakeholders and the cultural development of tourism does not require large investments and long-term plans.
Personally, I think it is necessary when we talk about sustainability and sustainable development to understand that it is equally important to preserve existing buildings and special cultural landmarks!
Both exploitation and restoration, let’s not forget, always works in a complementary way to existing successful sustainable tourism development practices.
After all, we must not forget that “today’s needs must be met without reducing the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.
Everything starts with individual environmental and responsible behaviour of each of us.