What’s the point of having a year-round holiday destination when few people can actually get to it?
For most Greeks, Mount Pilio, in central Greece, is just a few hours’ drive away. For those visiting from abroad, however, the trip is all but a nonstarter. First, they have to fly to Thessaloniki, in northern Greece, or Athens in the south, before a long drive by car or on a bus – or, at best, another flight – to Volos, which is the nearest town to the villages on Mt Pilio.
Most foreign visitors tell local professionals that they’d love to return but it simply entails too much traveling. As a result, despite the wide range of offers, demand remains relatively low.
The situation finally spurred three friends, who all work in the tourism business, into action. Christos Martzos, Chris Wicks and Leda Filipoppoulou recently launched an online campaign to convince low-cost airline EasyJet to inaugurate a direct route from London to Volos. Apart from providing great access to Mt Pilio, the Sporades islands and Evia, the proponents of the idea say, Volos Airport is also a key gateway to central Greece and Thessaly. The airport is close to the cities of Larissa, Lamia and Trikala and, at the same time, is ideal for anyone wishing to visit to nearby attractions such as the towering rock pillars of Meteora, Mt Olympus or the ancient city of Dion.
The campaign has gone viral on Facebook (www.facebook.com/easyjet.volos), but its architects have extended their efforts beyond social media. The three have sent a number of letters to EasyJet promoting the anticipated benefits of a UK-Volos connection. One of the big selling points is the high number of London-based Greeks who would use it to visit home, including during the winter season.
“The magazine available on EasyJet flights actually mentions the CEO’s e-mail address,” Wicks, who operates a guesthouse in Pilio’s Platania village, told Kathimerini.
“We thought, ‘Why not write to her?’ We sent her a personal invitation to visit the place and to check out the amount of interest in the idea for herself.” EasyJet has expressed an interest in the idea. “We do understand that it’s not a done deal, that they are looking into it, but it is still a positive sign,” said Wicks.
The reason the three friends turned to EasyJet is because it is a major airline with a Europe-wide network. “If any other company wants to go for it, of course it is more than welcome,” Wicks said.
“Over the past four years, Volos Airport has evolved into the country’s most modern regional airport,” said Martzos, who runs a hotel in Tsagarada village.
“[The airport] must be used as a tool for tourism and economic development for all of Thessaly. Our initiative has brought the issue to the fore and launched a useful debate on how to improve its management for the benefit of passengers, businesses and the local economy,” he added.
Champions of the idea like to emphasize that if foreign visitors can get here without the extra hassle and cost (highway tolls, fuel, parking, hotels) of having to fly to Athens or Thessaloniki, then that extra bit of money will be spent here.
No political parties are involved in the campaign. “We represent entrepreneurs and ordinary passengers,” explained Martzos.
The idea is very popular among travelers as well as local officials and professionals. Filipoppoulou told Kathimerini that the encouraging signs just keep on coming.
“Everyone is behind this. Most hotel owners have embraced the idea. They know it could really turn things round for Pilio.”