On April 5th, 2018 a small group of local entrepreneurs and regional stakeholders met in the Crete town of Argyroupoli, in Rethymno Prefecture, to discuss a cultural tourism initiative for rural areas of the island.
Timed to coincide with the unique Good Friday “lighting of the candles” in the village, and with ongoing efforts during the European Year of Cultural Heritage 2018, the mini-summit brought together key local, regional, and international influencers. Officials and experts from Rethymno municipality, Greece academia, marketing and PR, international media sponsors, and local entrepreneurs gathered to inform and to brainstorm concerning the correct path toward this trending form of alternative tourism for Crete.
“Traditions as a tool for Rural Tourism Development,” was organized by the Cultural Association of Argyroupoli, the Parish of Argyroupoli Rethymno in collaboration with the Cretan Gastronomy Center, the Municipality of Rethymno, Travel Massive – Chapter Crete, and Argophilia Travel News. The event was organized for just before cultural Easter festivities in ancient Lappa (Argyroupoli) and was aimed at developing responsible and sustainable tourism in Crete’s villages.
Argyroupoli was chosen because of the breadth of the village’s cultural diversity, which provided the perfect backdrop for this important conversation. The town, known in antiquity as Lappa, is an ancient center of culture a few kilometers southwest of the coastal town of Rethymno. Separated into an upper and lower village, the hamlet is a patchwork of Minoan, Mycenaean, Roman, and Venetian influences, each easily discernable from the other.
Conference participants explored the major challenges, risks, and opportunities for sustainable and responsible tourism development across the landscape of rural Crete. Key issues like case studies in marketing and development, governmental support and regulation, and the science of sustainability were highlights. The most relevant presentations for sustainable cultural tourism were offered by Dr. Stavros Hatziarinakis of the University of Patras, and a case study by EyeWide Digital Marketing’s Anastasia Chatziioannou.
Dr. Hatziarinakis’ presentation; “Linking Tourism Consumption to Domestic Products,” showed the positive and negative impacts, as well as the potential for the economy of Crete and rural villages, as well as for the wider Greek economy. His research provided a window into what balanced and sustainable tourism should look like. And in line with the trend toward sustainability, “The Case of Enagron Ecotourism Village,” presented by Anastasia Chatziioannou, Project Manager at EyeWide Digital, provided a real-life example of a truly eco-friendly entrepreneurial development, also in Rethymno Prefecture.
The Deputy Mayor of Rethymno Municipality for Culture and Tourism, Mrs. Pepi Mpirlidaki, and her colleague, Programs Director Mr. Vangelis Archontakis were on hand offering vital insight and support. Other important presentations at the conference included important marketing/sustainability discussions, melded to the cultural value proposition. The discussions were:
- Opening remarks and announcements by Mrs. Pepi Mpirlidaki, Deputy Mayor of Rethymno
- An introduction by the President of the Argyroupoli Community Association, Yiannis Deligiannakis, who’s also CEO and Founder Arcus Suites
- “Cultural Appeal: How to Dazzle Travelers with Heritage Values,” by Mihaela Lica Butler (feature image), Award-winning travel writer, Founder and Principal Partner at Pamil Visions Travel PR
- “Experiential Tourism in Rural Areas: Sustainable Tourism Products that Amaze the Travelers and Benefit the Community,” presented by Anula Galewska, Business Manager at Urban Adventures and a Co-Founder of Travindy sustainable tourism news portal
Vital for the ideas surrounding sustainable cultural tourism in rural areas, was the practice of presentation and sharing of the tourism product show by one of the main organizers of these events was Crete Urban Adventures founder and CEO, Rebecca Skevaki (below). Before and after the mini-summit, Mrs. Skevaki personally conducted various informative and unique tours of both upper (Venetian) and lower (Mycenean/Roman) Lappa. The most interesting (for me) of these guided tours was a trek and a visit to the church of the Holy Five Virgins, built inside the chamber of a Roman tomb. The associated Roman cemetery of ancient Lappa extends along a gorge formed by the Petres River. The fascinating burial crypts here are carved into limestone rock all the way to the bottom of the valley. At the end of the stone road down the valley, there’s a splendiferous and gigantic tree, one which was eventually split in two so that the path along the river could pass through. The tree has such an impact; it is difficult to describe in words. Some members of our party named the giant landmark the “Avatar Tree” – owing to the primeval topiary’s resemblance to the tree in the film “Avatar.”
Finally, the “Candles of Good Friday” celebration was the climax of this unique gettogether. This custom of alighting 6-meter long bamboo torches started when Argyroupoli was caught without electricity and municipal lighting some years back at Easter. The locals to honor the dead Jesus, lighten the path followed by the shepherd’s litany by creating “candles” (torches of reeds & starvils) to light a procession through the village. These “candles” were prepared early in the afternoon of Good Friday in St. John’s Square just before the litany begins. The torches held high overhead during the procession creates an atmosphere which transports participants and onlookers back in time. This joyous event, along with the many other cultural events in and around the village, Argyroupoli, and villages like it, they become a kind of “cultural template” for study and future success.