NEWS

Optimism brims as scorched Cassandra recovers from blaze

THESSALONIKI – Cassandra is slowly recovering from the fires that devastated Halkidiki in northern Greece in August, and should be ready to welcome tourists next summer. Already hundreds of timber cutters are working at top speed on the charred 3,500-hectare expanse to compete flood and erosion prevention work by January. At the same time, prefectural work teams are busy clearing streams. Meanwhile, a major advertising campaign has begun in Europe to maintain interest in what has become a popular travel destination in recent years. The first saplings that have started growing on the peninsula’s gray slopes have kindled hopes that the ecosystem will soon regenerate naturally. In the burned area, workers have already constructed 150 kilometers of branch and trunk bundles in water drainage basins in Hanioti, Nea Skioni, Polychronou and Pefkohori. So far the prohibitions intended to safeguard the natural regeneration of the forest have met with strict compliance. Both official organizations and local residents are ready to protect the charred woods from land-grabbers. Newly elected Prefect Asterios Zografos told Kathimerini that he was prepared to demolish any illegal buildings during the second stage of stream clearance. «Illegal structures and imported materials were what caused major problems in the floods after the fire in the affected areas of Cassandra,» said Zografos. He confirmed that compensation for those who suffered losses and increased funds to protect the area from floods and fires are in the pipeline. Even though this year’s tourism season closed with a loss of 2 million euros and a huge wave of cancellations, Halkidiki Hoteliers’ Union President Gerasimos Bakoyiannis is optimistic. «Halkidiki’s tourism product has not been devalued. Apart from the ecological destruction of Cassandra, the area retains the advantage of its greenery,» he said. «Natural beauty, combined with the cleanest sea, makes it the best, most family-friendly holiday destination, for which it won awards at this year’s Filoxenia exhibition.» This means Halkidiki is still on top of the tourist map in Greece, Bakoyiannis claims. He believes prospects for the coming season are favorable, with strong interest being shown in the Russian, Balkan and Western European markets, from which Halkidiki hopes to retain the growing influx of visitors that has become apparent in recent years. «The interest in those markets combined with the marketing campaign to promote the area in the printed and online press in Western and Southeastern Europe offer hope for a good season,» concluded Bakoyiannis.