Greece’s Ionian Islands, located along the country’s western coast, are an up-and-coming tourism destination, hitherto understated compared to the nations more traditionally sought-after island hotspots. The region’s governor, Theodros Galiatsatos, explains how the region’s new tourism campaign has redefined the islands international image, their ambitions in renewable energy development and how privatization is not a blanket solution for all Greek islands.
Do you believe that privatization can be beneficial for Greece?
Regarding airports, we think that these assets should not be privatized. The government has granted a license for the management of 14 airports to Fraport, a semi-public German firm, which is managed by a German region and the local chamber of commerce. We believe that whatever a German region does cannot be readily replicable in a Greek region, especially because you cannot exploit financial means the same way. We acknowledge that privatization is an expression of the economic reform that is taking place in Greece. Our perception is that privatizations, when they are needed, must be made on the basis of criteria that promote the Greek public sector where it wouldn’t be efficient enough beforehand and if the public asset can be managed better by local governments than foreign operators.
What is the recipe behind the recent success is tourism revenue in the Ionian Islands?
After 2014, we followed a different promotion policy, going beyond the traditional international exhibitions. That does not mean we stopped them; we keep on participating in those, but we also started using various methods based on modern media. By using Google, CNN and other means of communication, we managed to spread our reputation to targeted areas across the planet. We believe that, for the first time in their history, the Ionian Islands have been presented as a whole, by including the singularities of each region and presenting them in a unique way. This, in fact, was a key point that encouraged more tourists to visit our islands, because they suddenly realized that Corfu, Zakynthos and Ithaka are in the same area and can be visited altogether. For example, Kefalonia is more mountainous than the other Ionian islands. The small island of Ithaka has historic significance through its connection with Homer and Odyssey. Corfu has its own special beauty and picturesque character.
What specialty products and experiences do the islands offer tourists?
On the gastronomical side, there is robola from Kefalonia; cheese and kumquat from Corfu; mandolato, honey and lentils from Lefkada; and olive oil and raisins from Zakynthos, the latter of which is produced using a special treatment with chocolate. Regarding specialty experiences, due to the climate and the multiple islands we have, the Ionian Islands have many opportunities for marine and yacht tourism, surfing and windsurfing. Proof to that statement is the Corfu Challenge 2017, which took place here during the summer.
How are you planning to attract more investment to the Ionian Islands?
A few months ago, with the help of Enterprise Greece, we organized an event where financial associates and delegates from all over the world were present. Together with Enterprise Greece, we have signed a memorandum of understanding and this effort will continue as a dynamic process. In addition, we are also in cooperation with ETEAN. In fact, we are considering a tripartite cooperation, amongst ETEAN, as the national agency, the regional authority and the chambers of commerce of our four regions. All together we are about to set up a portfolio fund of the Ionian Islands region, in which we will all add funds. Its purpose will be the financial support to the local economy and, in particular, the professionals, small and medium-sized, by funding them in order to advance their projects. The criteria based on which the funded activities are going to be chosen are at the regional authority’s discretion.
What is the vision for expanding the renewable energy sector?
Here in the Ionians Islands there is a small yet important wind power farm in Kefalonia producing nearly 100 MW. We also have some small solar parks there. In the remaining islands, we have had difficulty in terms of acceptance due to fear from the tourism industry. We have directed our vice-governor for tourism to see operations in Tilos first, so that we can apply them also in Ionian Islands. We should begin with our smaller islands, like Diapontia, Kastos and Kalamos, and then with the larger ones.
What are your administration’s top goals for its term?
We want to make our region an attractive destination for visitors, but at the same time it has to be a sustainable tourism destination. In no case do we want to destroy our resources, especially the natural ones. In that regard, as the number of visitors keeps gradually increasing and with our promotion, which will likely increase even more the number of tourists next year, like it has been increasing for the past four years, we have to always take into account what we call the bearing capacity of each region. This number of visitors cannot be infinite. Every year, we want to make our region an even more attractive destination for visitors, but at the same time it has to be sustainable for our residents. We have to find the golden ratio, so that the visitors can really visit an attractive place and at the same time the infrastructure can be improved in order to respond to the needs of this fluctuating population.