Halkidiki expects record crowds

THESSALONIKI – Images of flames devouring the region of Cassandra, northern Greece, and clouds of smoke over nearby Halkidiki that were broadcast around the world last August do not appear to have damaged the region’s tourist trade as feared, for a 10 percent increase in arrivals is expected this summer. Tourism industry sources in Halkidiki claim that the projected increase is not only due to the peninsula’s reputation as a holiday destination but also the effects of an aggressive advertising campaign launched after the fire was extinguished. Mayor Constantinos Kapoulas of Pallini in the Cassandra area told Kathimerini the fire was a «bad memory,» adding that not only had there been a 10 percent increase in bookings from abroad but local travel agencies are asking for more rooms. «It appears the advertising campaign and the knock-on effect from the promotion of the Athens Olympics is responsible,» he said. Also satisfied with the campaign is Dinos Tornivoukas, vice president of the Halkidiki Hoteliers’ Union, who said this season will be even better than last, which was excellent, at least until the fire broke out in Cassandra. Also optimistic are owners of rooms to rent, who say bookings are up from last year. The hoteliers’ union, in cooperation with the Tourism Ministry, has already made use of extra funds totaling 100,000 euros for the promotion campaign; an equal amount is also to be granted to counteract adverse publicity. According to the deputy prefect responsible for tourism, Dionysis Aristotelidis, the promotion campaign abroad included presentations by the Halkidiki Prefecture at over 20 international tourism fairs and campaigns in Balkan countries. Meanwhile, the Cassandra region will face the threat of flooding in the event of heavy rains, as the anti-flooding infrastructure has not yet been completed one year after the fire. Aristotelidis said the state would have to provide funds for the purpose, but that the prefecture was carrying out restoration work so tourists would not be confronted by unsightly landscapes. Cassandra’s forestry director Giorgos Klonaris hoped «nature itself» would restore the damage to some extent, a process that has already begun with the appearance of the first seedlings.