Pilgrimage tourism billed as attraction

With tourist arrivals this year expected to show a decline even as neighboring countries posted increases, the government appears to have woken up to the fact that Greece’s mantra of sun, sea and sand seems to have lost its allure for many tourists. Tourism authorities have finally caught on to the fact that tourists, and high-spending ones at that, could actually be interested in the more unconventional and the out-of-the-way forms of tourism. Agrotourism, golf tourism, ecotourism – authorities are spouting the new gospel for attracting foreigners. Development Minister Akis Tsochadzopoulos has said that Greece will use its presidency next year to promote new forms of tourism as part of a strategy to broaden the market, attract well-heeled tourists and lengthen the tourist season. The move would also help less-developed and remote regions. Deputy Development Minister Dimitris Georgakopoulos yesterday identified another potential tourist draw, pilgrimage tourism. A hybrid of two forms of travel, pilgrimage tourism has long been a major activity in India and Israel, the birthplaces of three major religions. The profusion of monasteries in Tibet and China now also attract their fair share of pilgrims. Tourists making their pilgrimage do so for the spiritual experience as well as the cultural exposure. While monasteries and churches abound in Greece, many of which are endowed with religious significance, there has been no attempt so far to promote them to tourists. Lack of funding and the absence of any conservation program mean that a number of monasteries need a touch-up, in some cases a major revamp, before they can attract tourists. Georgakopoulos yesterday suggested that five monasteries be included in a pilot scheme, with the Finance Ministry funding their renovation. The uninhabited Panaghia Poretsou monastery, the Saint George monastery at the village of Gremnon and the Panaghia Xenia monastery in the prefecture of Magnesia could be converted into hospices for pilgrims. The Saint George campsite on Mt Helicon could be turned into a center for pilgrimage tourism while the Simonos Petras monastery on Mt Athos could be transformed into an information center for pilgrims. The budget for the five projects is estimated at 4.6 million euros.

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