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Mapping Greece’s trails with Google technology

mapping-greece-s-trails-with-google-technology

An interactive, innovative documentary where Greece’s countryside, hiking trails and culture meet Google technology is on the way, according to Stelios Mavrodontis, production manager and head of the four-member team E4, who spoke to Kathimerini recently.

Through E4’s collaboration with Google’s Trekker program, the documentary’s end result is set to be pretty impressive.

Two years ago, Google launched its Trekker loan program, which enables explorers to borrow a special backpack mounted kit which includes the same camera device found on Google Street View vehicles. This offers tourism boards, nonprofit organizations, research organizations, universities and others the opportunity to collect imagery from hard-to-reach places while assisting Google in its efforts to provide panoramic views from ground level of as many global locations as possible.

Greece was the 56th country to join the Google Street View project, in June 2014. In March this year, Street View’s platform was updated with a new collection of images, Sven Tresp, Google Street View’s special collections program manager, told Kathimerini. The goal, according to Tresp, is for Google to give its users the chance to see places of historical and cultural significance all over the world as if they were there themselves. For the time being, three Greek destinations have been mapped out via Trekker, and now the Meteora monastery complex, the Balos Lagoon on Crete and the Samaria Gorge, also on Crete, are available for users to visit online.

Mavrodontis’s team is collaborating with Google Trekker as part of an environmental campaign initiated by E4. The project is centered around hiking in Greece, and is supported by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), the Greek National Tourism Organization, UNESCO, the Hellenic Federation of Mountaineering & Climbing, and the European Ramblers Associations. E4 is also the name of a European long-distance trail that starts in Spain and finishes in Cyprus, passing through France, Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and Greece. According to Mavrodontis, the pathway’s most beautiful, as well as historically and culturally significant, section is located in Greece, but very few people know about it because it is so poorly promoted.

One of the team’s goals in producing Greece’s first interactive online documentary by implementing innovative technology is to raise public awareness about environmental issues. Hence, E4, using Google Trekker, decided to map out the 1,800-kilometer footpath, highlighting its most important sections, including Mt Olympus.

“We decided that a collaboration with Google would be strategically sound, as it will allow us to bring the Trekker equipment to Greece, enabling us to map out the footpath’s largest sections. Consequently, this gives us the opportunity to show off Greece’s wealth of hiking opportunities,” said Mavrodontis.

Using Google Trekker, the team will be able to offer an inspirational, three-dimensional tour of Greece’s hidden natural treasures and, as a result, viewers of the documentary will be able to virtually interact with the environment.

“Digitally, our viewers will be able to see a unique morphological spectacle of a snowy mountain and the sea from an altitude of 2,700 meters,” said Mavrodontis, referring to his team’s experience of mapping out Mt Olympus.

In the meantime, Mavrodontis noted that another goal behind the digitalization of Greece’s natural environment is to get in on the up-and-coming trend of adventure tourism.

According to Mavrodontis, adventure tourism is the most rapidly developing form of tourism, expected to surpass conventional tourism in the coming years.

Mavrodontis rejected the claim that the mapping out of Greece’s environment will lead to a reduction in tourist arrivals, saying that these new images will, in contrast, encourage potential visitors.

Businesses trained to use digital media

Apart from Trekker, Google is also developing a new program called Grow Greek Tourism Online (GGTO). According to Sven Tresp, Street View’s special collections program manager, mapping out a UNESCO-recognized destination of cultural importance with Google technology is not enough, as a destination’s search engine popularity is equally important.

In a recent interview, Google’s communication and public affairs manager for Greece and Italy, Claudio Monteverde, told Kathimerini that within the framework of the GGTO project, other than training local businesses to use digital media to improve their online presence, Google is called upon to channel more digital material onto the Internet than Greece itself.

“The broader the content we upload for a country, the more it contributes to that country’s tourism sector,” said Monteverde.

Moreover, he notes that the free-of-charge incorporation of Google’s Street View images is a huge advantage for the websites of local businesses.
“Images of an area’s historical, cultural and even geological significance advertise local businesses very well, as tourists are thoroughly informed about the places they are interested in visiting,” said Monteverde.

Since September 2014, through various presentations, GGTO has trained over 3,000 businesses.

The results have been very encouraging, as nine out of 10 businesses found Google’s content beneficial in regard to their growth, while eight out of 10 said they would increase their online presence to better promote themselves.