Putting themed tourism on the right track

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY GE­ORGE GE­OR­GAKOPOU­LOS

RE­AL­ITY CHECK This coun­try’ss­ports legacy makes the com­bi­na­tion of cul­ture and his­tory with phys­i­cal ex­er­cise an added at­trac­tion that Greece can­not af­ford to ig­nore.

Themed tourism of­fers ben­e­fits that mass tourism doesn’t, in­clud­ing high added value and re­peat visi­tors. Greece has only re­cently started tap­ping this source through forms such as re­li­gious and con­fer­ence tourism, but the idea of mix­ing hol­i­days with sports is still in its in­fancy.

While ri­val des­ti­na­tions have de­vel­oped pro­grams wel­com­ing in­di­vid­u­als as well as teams to play, train or ex­er­cise – in­clud­ing pro­fes­sional clubs and ath­letes who are regulars in places such as Tur­key, Spain and Por­tu­gal – Greece has not yet ap­proached the idea in an or­ga­nized fash­ion. Given the short­age of fa­cil­i­ties, golf tourism is still in the early stages, while sail­ing may be an ir­re­sistible at­trac­tion but has a lim­ited au­di­ence.

Olympic tourism, with vis­its to an­cient and mod­ern sites such as Olympia and Athens, could serve as a key at­trac­tion, as fig­ures show that since the Pana­thenaic Sta­dium opened to the pub­lic with guided tours in 2010, it has been at­tract­ing about 100,000 visi­tors per year.

Last spring the Hel­lenic Olympic Academy made a mod­est at­tempt at bring­ing the his­tory of the Games to life by or­ga­niz­ing an event at the Pana­thenaic Sta­dium re­viv­ing the

a group of Rus­sian tourists en­joyed shar­ing a sports ex­pe­ri­ence at the birth­place of the mod­ern Olympic Games and the marathon, and promised to tell ev­ery­one back home about it. first Mod­ern Games that took place at the site in 1896, but news of the event reached few tourists.

How­ever, sports tourism is not just about see­ing, it is about par­tic­i­pat­ing. The Hel­lenic Olympic Com­mit­tee to­day pro­vides for group tours to the Pana­thenaic Sta­dium to be op­tion­ally com­bined with some type of sports ac­tiv­ity, through the ar­range­ment of track or field com­pe­ti­tions for vis­it­ing groups “so that visi­tors can feel the dy­namic and pow­er­ful sport­ing pulse of this an­cient sta­dium,” the Com­mit­tee states.

That is some­thing that should ap­peal to many visi­tors. A cou­ple of months ago, one week be­fore the 2013 Athens Clas­sic Marathon, a group of Rus­sian tourists aged be­tween 40 and 70 wanted to en­joy the au­then­tic ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing a run at the birth­place of the Mod­ern Olympics and a taste of what it might be like to do the marathon. Seek­ing a guide for the group, the agency that brought them to Athens con­tacted Maria Poly­zou, the Greek record­holder in the marathon and the founder of Marathon Team Greece, which had over 1,000 run­ners in the 2013 Athens Marathon.

“Their tour op­er­a­tor con­tacted me. They knew my name from the Phei­dip­pi­des feat I recorded in 2010 when I ran from Athens to Sparta and back in honor of the Bat­tle of Marathon’s 2,500-year an­niver­sary,” Poly­zou told Kathimerini English Edi­tion.

Ap­par­ently, the Rus­sians were hop­ing to com­bine their visit to the Pana­thenaic Sta­dium with a run, and Poly­zou hap­pily took them to the nearby track of the Eth­nikos Athens club.

“I orig­i­nally thought the tourists just wanted us to meet, but they had much more in mind.

“They came in their track suits and train­ers, com­plete with their first names printed on their tops, and ready to have a crack at run­ning on an Athens track un­der my guid­ance,” said Poly­zou.

“Their pas­sion was de­light­fully un­ex­pected and I en­cour­aged them all to run 3 or even 5 kilo­me­ters on the track, some of them run­ning that dis­tance for the first time in their lives.

“They all crossed the fin­ish line and loved it. They promised to tell ev­ery­one back home about it and re­turn one day for more,” re­counted Poly­zou. “It seems to me that when we Greeks show visi­tors our best side, they are more than ea­ger to en­joy them­selves and fall in love with this coun­try.”

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