Greece is due to invest close to 37 million euros to promote eco-tourism this year, while the implementation of a master plan to promote this long-neglected type of tourism should help prolong the tourism season and motivate residents to stay put in their villages, Deputy Development Minister Dimitris Georgakopoulos said yesterday. Georgakopoulos said the government has decided to make up for its past indifference with a series of measures to promote this year as the year of «Global Eco-tourism.» Acknowledging that «eco-tourism has never been a priority for the responsible state body,» in contrast with the more conventional forms of tourism, he said the government plans to pay more attention to this alternative form of tourism in terms of organization and financing. First in the pipeline will be the setting up of a committee, headed by Georgakopoulos himself, which will implement the measures. The State also intends to adopt a charter which will set out the basic guidelines for eco-tourism activities and a master plan with a focus on four Olympic cities: Patras, the Cretan port of Iraklion, Volos in central Greece and Thessaloniki. The program also includes a series of advertising campaigns, publications and seminars. The deputy minister said a new company, Agrotouristiki, will be set up which will promote visiting the countryside, help coordinate activities and provide technical assistance. He also pointed to a pilot program on eco-tourism with Turkey and Albania under which Greece provides its technical expertise to the two neighboring countries. Greece’s efforts to promote eco-tourism will be heavily funded by third Community Support Framework funds, amounting to about 29.4 million euros. ETA, the asset management arm of the Greek National Tourist Organization (EOT), and the Economy and Finance Ministry are to contribute a total of 7.3 million euros toward this year’s activities. Georgakopoulos said eco-tourism is expected to bring a number of benefits, among them helping to prolong the tourism season, upgrade the quality of tourism, motivate local residents to stay put in their villages and protect the ecosystem. He noted that the company is well-placed to withstand the added competition from new operator InfoQuest, which is scheduled to launch GSM services this year.