In order to assess current tourist dynamics and evaluate perspectives and potentials for a more sustainable tourism, a typology of tourism, and its development from 2008 to the present has been performed.
Potentials for Sustainable Tourism on the Greek Island of Samothraki – key findings from the Master’s Thesis of Nathalie Schwaiger (2016),
Over the last decades, tourism has developed into the most important economic sector on Samothraki, employing around 2/3 of the economically active population, and even more as a part time activity. In order to assess current tourist dynamics, as well as evaluate perspectives and potentials for a more sustainable tourism we have performed a typology of tourism, and its development from 2008 to the present, as well as a description of tourist behavior and preferences, based on ferry statistics, field research and two large passenger surveys.
Current state and findings
Due to the infrequent accessibility and its morphology, Samothraki does not have the potential for becoming a high income beach tourism destination. Tourist numbers over the past decades have only slightly increased, and large tourism development activities have not taken place. With around 36,000 tourists annually (that correspond to merely 0.5 tourist beds per inhabitant), Samothraki is dominated by small family-owned accommodation units that are only used in peak season and remain underutilised for the rest of the year. Tourists are young, predominantly Greek, well-educated and loyal. Half of them camp and an overwhelming majority considers the island as a “very special place” that ought to be preserved. This is also true for many second home owners who have chosen their home on Samothraki because they wanted a reclusive place close to nature. Financial turnover from tourism is significant: an estimate of € 16 -19 million annually. Campers spend less, but stay longer, so overall contribute nearly the same as visitors who stay in hotels. In this sense, campers are highly relevant for the local economy with the least environmental pressure in terms of infrastructure requirements.
The natural and cultural values that make Samothraki special were fortunately kept largely intact during the years and can provide the baseline for the path of the island towards a sustainable future. A sustainable tourism management plan should give credit to the unique natural and rich cultural heritage of the island, while seeking to increase the local income derived from it, including the generation of more highly qualified jobs that would allow young, educated people to stay on the island and sustain their lives there. Samothraki’s faithful visitors can be further targeted by providing alternative opportunities that would extend the season without the need of large-scale investments. Specific proposals could include:
- Promotion of social cooperatives running tourist businesses, based on the successful example of the municipal camping cafe that has a great potential to become a model eco-tourism facility and environmental education hotspot.
- Foster local collaboration in developing and efficiently communicating a joint agro-eco-touristic product that could include nature based activities (hiking, cycling, diving, trekking, canyoning) with thermalism, photography classes, local cuisine, etc.
- Investing on integrated eco-cultural trails, improving and labelling existing mountain paths and linking it with other offers (e.g. bird watching opportunities).
There is a large “wilderness campsite” on the island that attracts hundreds of tourists. A large shaded area under the canopy of a forest reaching right to the seaside offers natural comfort to the campers, even if civilizational comfort is partly lacking.
Several years ago, there were open air music festivals on the campsite that spread noise, money and, according to rumors, drugs across the island. These festivals were stalled, music is offered elsewhere, and the campsite now is a place of piece and cicadas. It does not fulfill the preconditions to be fully legalized yet – but it seems to be governed by a spirit of freedom and mutual friendliness, as reflected in the opinions of visitors articulated in a 2017 survey. The purpose of this survey was to get a feeling for changes and investments required by the users of the camping, and the benefits of the camping the users value most. The results are very clear: the users come for wilderness and freedom, they are very faithful to the island, and two thirds of them would be willing to pay.