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New Possibilities for Greece’s Ecotourism Sector

New Possibilities for Greece’s Ecotourism SectorA step taken last month by the Greek government opens new possibilities for the country’s Ecotourism sector. Ecotourism, a sub-category of sustainable tourism, is considered the fastest growing market in the tourism industry, according to the World Tourism Organization, with an annual growth rate of 5% worldwide and representing 6% of the world gross domestic product, 11.4% of all consumer spending.

The North Pindus National Park, an expanse of 2,000 square kilometers lying between Epirus and Western Macedonia, is Greece’s largest protected area, following the joint ministerial decision signed last month.

The ruling specifies two protection zones within the park and a peripheral zone to ensure the sustainability of the area’s natural resources.

Most of North Pindus is already protected under national, European Union and international law since, apart from two national parks, it also contains eight areas in the Nature 2000 network, two special bird life protection zones, two sites of exceptional natural beauty, 11 wildlife refuges, 64 traditional settlements, numerous listed monuments -most of which are Byzantine or post-Byzantine- and countless arched stone bridges.

Nonetheless, it lacked a unified management and operation system to protect the area and to promote it effectively.

Studies conducted 15 years ago noted the need for a national park in the area. A special environmental study in 2002 collated data from previous studies and proposed a joint ministerial decision to establish the North Pindus National Park. The proposal was discussed by local municipal councils and then by the prefectural councils of Ioannina and Grevena, with outside organizations and the public expressing their views as well.

It was not easy to reach a compromise as there were many conflicting demands and disagreements.

The Environment Ministry is working on the final clauses of the joint ministerial ruling, which is intended to improve the quality of life for Pindus residents without hindering their daily activities. For instance, the ruling does not change the present situation in the park in relation to stock raising, farming, timber felling, forestry management, and the trade and manufacture of local products. But it does not allow large hotels, poultry farms and hydroelectric projects.

The ruling promotes small-scale tourist accommodation, local products and, in general, development that respects the environment. Approval has already been given through the Third Community Support framework for the construction of agri-tourism facilities.

The regulations for the national park, combined with a series of measures favoring modest business activity, lay the ground for thoroughgoing protection and promotion of the area.

The extensive dialogue that preceded it well indicates the ministry’s intentions and efforts to secure the broadest possible consensus for the decision to establish the national park. The completion of this lengthy process signals the beginning of the decision’s implementation, the foremost objective of which is sustainable development.

The park includes the two rare ecosystems of Pindus and Vikos-Aoos, which are in need of protection, and a multitude of cultural heritage monuments. The area is rich in water resources.

The district belongs to the prefectures of Ioannina and Grevena. It comprises six distinct social and geographical entities without clear administrative boundaries but with strong social ties and a common history – Zagori, Konitsa and Metsovo in Ioannina prefecture, and the Vlachohoria, Kopastaraion and Sarakatsanon villages in Grevena prefecture.

The local economy is based on tourism, stock farming and timber felling, while products of certified origin are starting to claim a considerable share.

Eco-tourism focuses on local cultures, wilderness adventures, volunteering, personal growth and learning new ways to live on our vulnerable planet. It is typically defined as travel to destinations where the flora, fauna, and cultural heritage are the primary attractions.

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