‘Santorini Experience’ Puts Popular Greek Island on Sports Tourism Map – Interview with Mayor of Thira Anastasios – Nikolaos Zorzos
On the weekend of May Day, the sporting world had its eye on a new event that offered breathtaking views and challenging routes: the “Santorini Experience”!
Held on Santorini, one of Greece’s most popular islands, professional and amateur athletes swam and ran together in non-competitive events. Because sports, above all else, is fun!
Organized by the Municipality of Thira and the Santorini Municipal Sports, Culture and Environmental Organization in collaboration with Active Media Group and with the technical support of Xterra Greece, the “Santorini Experience” came to highlight the importance of exercise while tapping into the ever-growing potential of sports tourism.
Swimming and running under the volcano
The organizers planned running and swimming events along picturesque routes on one of the most beautiful Greek islands and one of the most loved destinations by tourists across the globe. According to the organizers, although in its first year, the “Santorini Experience” event attracted much national and international attention and interest.
“The sports weekend of ‘Santorini Experience’ was completed in a dynamic way and was extremely successful, with large numbers of participants and had a great impact on the people that attended”, the Mayor of Thira, Anastasios – Nikolaos Zorzos, said at the end of the three-day event.
Mayor Zorzos had given the start of the “Santorini Experience” event from within a boat in the water at the harbor of the volcano.
“We want and we seek such events that can promote alternative forms of tourism and prove that Santorini is a destination that is available to host the world throughout the year with different but equally unique occasions each time,” he added.
GTP caught up with the Mayor of Thira, Anastasios – Nikolaos Zorzos, who underlined the importance of the event for the promotion of Santorini as a sports tourism destination.
- GTP: Santorini is one of the most popular destinations worldwide, suitable for many forms of tourism: wedding/honeymoon tourism, wine tourism, family tourism and it is also ideal for visitors with archaeological and even geological interest. Is the municipality aiming to add “sports tourism” to this list?
Mayor of Thira, Anastasios – Nikolaos Zorzos: The Municipality of Thira aims to diversify its tourism product. It aims to extend the tourism season by developing alternative forms of tourism. And the municipality certainly prefers to welcome guests that have particular interests since these are visitors who respect the destination. Sports tourism certainly is among the municipality’s interests and the “Santorini Experience” is an opportunity to promote such a form of tourism.
- GTP: How was the “Santorini Experience” event “born” and what was the impact of the first “Santorini Experience” event on the island as a tourism destination?
Mayor of Thira: Santorini is among the top tourism destinations worldwide and keeping the island on the top creates a huge responsibility to us all. Thoughts about alternative forms of tourism, such as sports tourism, gave birth to the “Santorini Experience”.
Our thought was simple. Without altering, in any way, the natural environment through the event, we showcased the island and allowed the participants to become a part of it.
In only one month after announcing the event, results exceeded our expectations. Already, even before it took place, interest to participate in the next “Santorini Experience” was expressed from all around the world.
- GTP: According to the 8th UNWTO Ministers’ Summit, held in London’s World Travel Market last November, mega-events and tourism go “hand in hand” as they can deliver long-term benefits for hosting destinations in terms of infrastructure development and expanding the job market. Is this the aim for the “Santorini Experience”? To establish it as a Greek mega-event?
Mayor of Thira: I think that the answer to the first question reveals the target set by the Municipality of Thira. And Santorini, as a leading Greek tourism destination, has all the features to attract entries from around the world, and certainly can be an excellent Greek organization.
- GTP: What more support does the “Santorini Experience” event need from the island’s tourism professionals in order for it to become a mega-event – a “tourist attraction” – on Santorini every May and thus extend the tourist season?
Mayor of Thira: The professionals on the island have already proven that they are willing to help in any such organization that supports tourism and in particular tourism that is targeted. This was proven with the Gastronomy Year (2013), an initiative of global dimension. This year’s first organization I’m sure will be an excellent general rehearsal which will demonstrate the dynamics of the event.
- GTP: Considering that the event grows in popularity and attracts an increased number of participants, what more will the island need in terms of infrastructure and services?
Mayor of Thira: In terms of infrastructure, Santorini is clearly ready to accept more participants, provided that the planning of sports events is such that they do not take place during the peak tourism season. Therefore the correct and timely planning is key for the the desired result.
- GTP: Is the cooperation between the Municipality of Santorini and the Tourism Ministry/Greek National Tourism Organization the desired one? How could the Tourism Ministry/GNTO help to establish the “Santorini Experience” as a “tourism attraction”?
Mayor of Thira: Santorini may be one of the most popular travel destinations, but it needs the support and promotion of the Tourism Ministry / GNTO which makes cooperation with them “sine qua non”. Their cooperation has the desired results, but we will continually strive for more.
With regards to establishing the “Santorini Experience” as a tourism attraction, but also all kinds of such events, the GNTO — within the context of actions implemented in Greece and abroad, as well as through the electronic media used (sites, social media and others) — can and needs to promote the island’s activities such as the “Santorini Experience” sport event thus supporting the effort for the promotion of alternative tourism forms.
- GTP: A part of the proceeds from the “Santorini Experience” will go towards the construction of an athletics track at the island’s stadium. Could you share more details about this?
Mayor of Thira: It is known that the basis of sports is track and field. So the “Santorini Experience” through its financial contribution for the construction of an athletics track, helps us send out a joint message to the General Secretary of Sport and to the regional authorities that we should all join forces to build a stadium and not only, as I believe that Santorini also needs a swimming center.
“Santorini is ready to welcome and accommodate other similar events all year round, as it is beautiful and worthy to explore not only in the summer. We invite you to discover it. ‘Santorini Experience’ was just the beginning. We will see you all again at the next ‘Santorini Experience’!”
The event’s launch took place on May 1 in Perissa, where some 300 children from municipal schools and high schools on the island ran along the beach, a distance of one kilometer, offering moments of joy to parents and spectators in the first day of the event.
The second day of “Santorini Experience” hid a truly unique experience as amateur swimmers of all ages had the opportunity to swim the swimming route of 1.5 mile (2.4 km) next to top names in the sport of open water swimming. The event was honored by the participation of Gold Medalist and twice World Champion, Spyros Gianniotis; World Champions, Antonis Fokaidis and Kelly Araouzou; and the Pan-European Champion George Arniakos.
The event’s second day wrapped up with a gala organized at SantoWines in Pyrgos, during which the president of the Swimming Federation of Greece and member of the Hellenic Olympic Committee, Dimitris Diathesopoulos, the Federal Coach of Swimming and our Greek champions were all honored in a special ceremony.
The “Santorini Experience” came to an end on May 3, when hundreds of runners gathered in the desalination plant in Oia and ran in the direction towards Fira in a path overlooking the uniqueness of the volcano, the Caldera and the sites Imerovigli, Firostefani and Oia.
Big athletic names took part in the running routes such as Paralympic athlete and Triathlon Champion Giannis Chatzibeis (who took part also in the swimming event the day before); Kick Boxing Champion Alexandros Nikolaidis; veteran footballer Kostas Antoniou and many other personalities.
Sponsors of the event also included the Boatmen Union of Santorini, Reef, The North Face and Alafouzos Sport. The “Santorini Experience” event was held under the auspices of the Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) and the Association for International Sport for All (TAFISA).
GTP was a Strategic Communication Partner of the “Santorini Experience” event.
The dates for the 2nd “Santorini Experience” will be announced soon!