Tiny Greek island, Syros, targets year-round quality tourism, not mass tourism

by Maria Spiliopoulou

SYROS, Greece, Sept. 15 (Xinhua) -- At the end of the summer tourism season, the numbers look good for Greece, despite the ongoing seven-year debt crisis. The Greek Tourism Confederation (SETE) is forecasting that 2016 will see another record year of visitor arrivals to Greece, surpassing the 25.5 million visitors welcomed in 2015.

Most are flocking to famous destinations, such as Mykonos. However, about an hour distance by boat, the Cyclades island group has much more to offer. Syros island is taking steps to target year-round quality tourism rather than mass tourism, local authorities told Xinhua.

Although a small island of some 83 square km with about 21,000 residents, Syros has been for decades a popular tourist destination for Greeks thanks to its rich history and unique character among other Aegean Sea islands.

Despite the seven-year debt crisis which has seriously affected domestic tourism, a 31 percent increase in arrivals was recorded this July and a 25 percent in August compared to the summer of 2015.

The City Hall
The lack of an international airport and large hotel units kept Syros an undiscovered gem for most foreign tourists so far. The islanders are now investing in infrastructure projects to attract more foreign visitors, they told Xinhua.

"The fact that so far Syros is not very well known worldwide maybe is an opportunity so we can now create a tourism product addressed to a specific profile of potential visitors. We are not interested in mass tourism during the summer season. We want to offer year- round quality tourism services," George Marangos, Mayor of Syros-Ermoupolis municipality said in a recent interview at his office.

The port city of Ermoupolis (the city of Hermes, god of trade in ancient Greek mythology), the capital of Syros and Cyclades, with its neoclassical mansions offers a first glimpse into a glorious past.

The City Hall, one of its main landmarks, designed by the famous German architect Ernst Ziller, and the nearby Apollo Theatre, a miniature version of Milan's La Scala, both constructed in the early 19th century, reflect a thriving shipping, commercial and industrial center of the newly established Greek state with rich cultural life.

Investment in quality tourism by mobilizing locals and attracting foreign investors holds a key role in local authorities' vision for the future of Syros.

"I believe in 5-10 years we will be the grand surprise of the Aegean. If Syros makes the best use of its unique elements we can make it. We do not wish to become a bad copy of other popular tourism destinations. We have our own identity to promote and we want to create our own tourism product," Marangos said.

Outlining the unique identity, the mayor pointed to the island's rich history and culture.

The settlement of Kastri

The settlement of Kastri going back 5,000 years ago is one of the earliest human settlements in Europe. In the Middle Ages, during the 13th-14th centuries, the hill top town of Ano Syros was built and influenced by the Venetians. Christian Orthodox and Catholics are living in harmony ever since.

Syros has a long tradition in arts and letters. It is the birthplace of Markos Vamvakaris (1905-1972), the so-called Homer of the Greek folk rebetiko music. The list of cultural heritage treasures promoted through festivals throughout the year is endless.

Its port, which underwent a "face lift" this year, is another of its strong cards, since it can accommodate the largest cruise ships.

Apollon Theater
The expansion works at the airport which start this autumn with European funds are expected to help link the island directly to European countries, Turkey, Egypt and other destinations. So far Syros airport accommodates domestic flights with planes of 37 people capacity mainly from Athens.

The plan to breathe new life into the island also includes investments in upgraded hotel facilities. Currently Syros lags in hotel accommodation in terms of quantity and quality. Some 7,500 beds in small family run old houses mainly are not adequate to cater to the needs of the tourists locals now want to attract. The plan foresees the creation of resorts and a conference center.

In the meantime, Syros promotes the profile of an all seasons destination. The municipality is focusing on thematic tourism addressed to people with larger purchasing power who can travel despite the crisis.

Emphasis has been placed on athletic tourism by organizing a series of various sports events during the summer, but also in springtime and autumn. The 30th World Underwater Spear fishing Championship is hosted on the island from this Thursday to September 19 with 25 countries participating.

"Syros was a case study for Europe in the 19th century. Ermoupolis was built by refugees who arrived from the then Minor Asia with private funds from ship owners and industrialists. We can achieve miracles again today without relying on the debt ridden state, by attracting investors," Marangos said.

Speaking to Xinhua, the mayor urged foreigners, including Chinese, to take a chance on Syros and invest in the developing tourism destination.

Editor: yan
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