Dr Ioannis Pappas, CEO of Green Evolution SA, Member of the Board and Country Representative of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, is an experienced professional engineer, with over 25 years of work in several fields of science, focusing on sustainability for tourism, energy and environmental efficiency in infrastructure and buildings, auditing or advising in standardization of companies and technological implementation of climate adaptation and mitigation methodologies.
His company, Green Evolution S.A. is an advisory company in the fields of environment, energy and carbon finance. With respect to sustainable tourism in particular they assist interested entities to implement sustainable tourism through consulting, training and functional support, in the design, management and implementation of tourism projects with sustainability in order to create long term benefits for destinations and local communities
In this interview Ioannis Pappas speaks with Anula Galewska about challenges of tourism development in Greece and reviews the sustainability efforts of the Greek tourism industry.
This article is part of the interview series with Speakers of the GSTC Conferences in Suwon, Korea and Athens, Greece held in October and November 2016.
Anula: What are the main challenges tourism in Greece is facing now?
Ioannis: For the last 5 years, Greece has faced tremendous economic pressures, where tourism has had the major role in supporting the Greek economy. However, in my opinion, Greece is at a crossroads now: the model that was followed until today is facing a phase-out stage and we should create a different one based on the real advantages offered by Greek culture, people and our environment.
I think that we have to go beyond the sea-sun-sand model, which creates a great pressure in many areas of Greece for a specific, small time span. This new model should focus also on different geographical areas, alternative activities, ones that are more sustainable and more creative, in order to differentiate the product in the coming years. We need this differentiation due to the fact that we have to develop our capacity and variety of services in a more sustainable way. In the last years, and due to the political situation in our area of Med, Greece has taken a large portion of visits from other markets like Turkey and Egypt. However, this will not last forever and we should create a more sustainable mix in order to look to the future.
Anula: How can sustainable development of tourism answer these challenges?
Ioannis: I think that the sustainable tourism is part of the answer. Greek hotels should move to a more ‘green’ way of operation, in order to decrease their cost and differentiate their product, increase their incomes and target an alternative market group. The destinations should create a new strategy of development for the future, based on the main sustainability pillars, the society and the environment, focusing on a more sustainable finance model. This will support the supply chain of the local products, decrease unemployment in Greece, and reverse the brain drain from the country that has been created over the last few years.
Anula: How sustainable is Greek tourism at the moment?
Ioannis: In general, Greece as a country is not a sustainable tourism destination. The main reason is that there is no specific middle to long term strategy from the Greek governments in that direction. Also, there were no action plans introduced by the other levels of public administration / governance like regions or municipalities related with sustainability in tourism specifics until today. Based on those facts, the destination of Greece couldn’t be seen as a sustainable one.
However, due to the fact that Greece has a very close to nature product, with great biodiversity content, someone could say that the ‘green’ character is always part of the total product. Also, in the last few years, an increasing number of Greek hotels have gone sustainable, either pushed by the big tour operators or by the market / clients. Today, almost 5% of the hotels are certified by one or another standard that is at least recognized by GSTC, and many initiatives at the local level of products and supply chain have been created that support the sustainable character of the product, while a large number of alternative activities are available especially on the mainland. Of course, all these are not enough and many additional things have to be done, especially at a strategic and administration level.
Anula: Which industry segments are most receptive to sustainability solutions?
Ioannis: Due to the fact that hotels and in general the accommodation sector is directly related with reservations, this part of the tourism economy is more open to our services for consulting and certification services. However, most of the time, the easiest part to be sold is anything that is directly connected with the client. Like green marketing or certifications that are asked for by the tour operator.
Actions like energy efficiency with middle to long term economical benefit are a very difficult aspect. For the hoteliers, it is very clear that they can buy only if the economical benefit is clear and measurable in a short time period. Also, there are financial limitations due to the overall economic situation in Greece for the last few years that set different conditions in their plans on investments.
Anula: How about yachting and cruising, which is quite an important part of Greek tourist offer. Is there any green movement there?
Ioannis: Today, yachting and cruising is an important part of Greek tourism, especially in some specific areas and islands. However, the present model in most cases is not a very sustainable one, taking into account that the capacity of the destinations in many cases is exceeded. This is creating a large pressure on local economic activity, focused in a specific time period of each summer, and creating some major issues in environmental and social terms.
In the last few years, there have been some initiatives towards going to a more ‘green’ way for cruising by smaller ships or moderating the numbers of visits per harbour. I think that the big change will come due to the decision of the big cruising companies around the world to be sustainable by 2020, based on GSTC criteria. This will set new rules for the market, and it will help also the cruising supply chain to become greener and the local communities to control this part of tourism activity in a more efficient way.
Anula: Do you see a demand for sustainable tourism growing in Greece?
Ioannis: According to several market surveys that have be conducted in Greece or related with the Greek tourism market, there is a growing demand for sustainable tourism. Especially when it comes to city hotels, more and more professionals are asking for and seeking out hotels that have policies and practices on sustainability, or even are certified by one or another sustainability standard.
Moreover, the awareness among visitors to coastal areas on environmental standards like Blue Flag or others is increasing and is part of how they make their decisions. Based on the outcomes of online or off-line surveys, we find that visitors are trying in their holidays to combine relaxation, culture excursions and gastronomy, together with a demand for a set of alternative activities.
On the other side, there is a growing demand from the big tour operators for hotels that are certified as sustainable, which is pushing the market to that direction, from the hotels through to all the supply chain.
Anula: What needs to happen for sustainable tourism to become a standard in Greece?
Ioannis: The major need for Greece in order to provide a more sustainable tourism product is the creation of a national policy on sustainability in tourism. We need an overall plan for moving towards a sustainable future, based on global good practices and support from organizations like GSTC. This strategy will focus on the advantages of Greece, in environmental and biodiversity terms, boosting the local initiatives and the special characteristics of each area. The action plan that will be created should be implemented in a regional and municipality level, creating the necessary awareness of the local communities. This approach will help the different players in several levels to increase their potential in global markets and will create a huge dynamics in the local communities for corporations and differentiation on local and regional level.
Anula: What is the role of certification schemes in this process?
Ioannis: I think that the certification schemes are a necessity for an assurance in transparency, as well as assurance and standardization of any process and product. Based on that fact, I think that all the businesses – but also many public services like Municipality or Region – should achieve a certain level of certification on sustainability terms, in order to increase their benefits and quality of outcome, while decreasing their environmental impact.
However, in many cases, the cultural or financial barriers in order to attain certification are considerable, creating many issues for supporting an alternative, more sustainable future. In my opinion, and based on the fact that the global status of certification will become more and more sound and recognizable in the public and among the potential clients for each sector, the status of certification schemes will increase for businesses or public entities, enforcing a more efficient way of creating sustainability in tourism.
Anula: What are your favorite examples of sustainable tourism businesses and destinations in Greece?
Ioannis: There are many good examples for sustainability in Greece that I could mention. The most important criteria for identifying these are based on creativity, innovation, the vision of the main players and integration with the local community and culture. At the Destination level, a great example is the island of Crete and especially the Municipality of Rethymnon, with great examples of certified hotels and businesses, environmental policies and actions from the public level and great integration of the local community and society.
At the level of hotels, I could mention many different examples like the Grecotel Hotels and Resorts, the Atlantica Hotels and Resorts, the Aldemar Hotels and Resorts and the Suni Resort, all for their outstanding sustainability results. Also, there are so many examples of small and boutique hotels all around Greece with a high level of sustainable practices and vision that could be mentioned like Milia in Crete or Montanema in Thessaly.
GSTC’s Regional European Meeting took place in Athens, Greece in November 2016. To view presentations from the past conference and learn about upcoming GSTC events, visit GSTC website.