Western Greece’s Regional Governor Nektarios Farmakis.
Western Greece possesses archaeological, natural, gastronomic, and cultural riches that rival those of any other part of Greece – or the Mediterranean – but somehow it is one of Greek Tourism’s big secrets. The National Herald spoke to Western Greece’s Regional Governor Nektarios Farmakis about the charms and prospect of this glorious and welcoming area.
The National Herald: To what extent has the pandemic affected Western Greece and what are the forecasts for the coming months and summer?
Nektarios Farmakis: Last year’s tourist season had a muted start, and was clouded with many uncertainties, however it developed quite well and there are now clear indications that create high hopes and expectations that this season will be very good, with our region being a very important magnet for visitors to Greece. I note that Araxos airport was in the top five for increases in passenger traffic in 2021 compared to 2020, with an increase of 142%, while based on initial data from the Bank of Greece, traffic in the first 9 months of 2021 increased by 74.81% compared to the corresponding period in 2020. Travel receipts also increased by about 70% and overnight stays had an increase that exceeded 100%. This rising trend seems to have continued after September, while during the Christmas period, there was a very large increase recorded in all mountain tourist accommodations and especially in the area of Kalavrita. We believe that this upward trend can continue in the summer period ahead of us, despite all the uncertainties and problems that still exist at this time related to the war in Ukraine.
TNH: While the pandemic has slowed down many activities, some projects have progressed. Tell us about the status of your important infrastructure projects, such as roads and railways.
NF: The Region of Western Greece now has a modern road infrastructure that connects it with Athens but also with the northwest axis of the country, north to Ioannina. It has excellent airports such as those of Aktio and Araxos, which as I already mentioned, shows strong upward trends for arrivals, and of course, there is the very important port of Patras, Greece’s ‘gateway’ to Western Europe. There is also the port of Katakolo, one of the most important cruise ports in Greece. The new Patras-Pyrgos highway and the new railway axis between Aigio and Patras are currently moving forward at the national level. Also, as a Regional Authority, we have launched dozens of interventions to improve and upgrade the roads of Western Greece and improve the speed and safety of travel, as well as projects to strengthen our port infrastructure.
We are proceeding with the revitalization of the coast area of Nafpaktos, the modernization of the ski center of Kalavrita, and much more. We are well aware that accessibility is a prerequisite for any form of development and we are moving forward at great speed so that Western Greece can be transformed into an area of easy access for all its features and areas.
TNH: Is there investment interest in Western Greece?
NF: There are many serious indications that Western Greece is becoming a pole for attracting investment, but also that existing companies in the region want to invest even more and strengthen both their production and their extroversion. At the moment, in the field of tourism, two important investments have already been approved and are characterized as strategic, one in Etoloakarnania and one in Ilia.
Also, in the processing sector there is a continuous creation of new companies that are more related to the agri-food sector, while Western Greece can also be a strong pole in the energy sector, especially if it utilizes its huge water potential. We are constantly working to create the right conditions to attract significant private investment and we support entrepreneurship in every way. In the period 2019-2021, a total of 190 million euros were allocated to entrepreneurship support programs – to more than 1,800 companies in all three regional units – using only money managed by the Region.
TNH: In what ways is the investment climate changing or improving. What reforms and incentives are planned or are underway?
NF: The investment climate is improving both with concrete projects and a specific strategy. I have already mentioned the importance of accessibility. Another very important area is to highlight the commercial potential of the area and what it can offer to potential investors. That is why we have created an investment and production profile for Western Greece, a complete plan that is also accessible through the internet (https://www.pde.gov.gr/invest_in_PDE/index.php/el/). On that site, anyone can ‘tour’ Western Greece and experience the investment opportunities in Achaia, Etoloakarnania, and Ilia, focusing on areas of special interest.
Also, knowing that modern entrepreneurship requires up-to-date organized reception areas, in addition to respect for the environment, we completed another project that explores the best locations for Business Parks in each Regional Unit.
We have also completed a full plan for the development of electric mobility, but also something else that is very important: Nineteen plans – one for each of the municipalities of Western Greece – for adaption to climate change. This is very important, because one of the big issues regarding today’s and tomorrow’s investments is security.
In addition, I can mention that we have succeeded in securing the expansion of the gas pipeline to Western Greece, while we are working feverishly in order to put into practice our vision for energy security in agricultural production and other sectors. I am referring to the nine energy communities that we have established, including the largest cooperative photovoltaic park in Europe that we are planning for 1,300 acres in the area of Messolonghi.
So we have a comprehensive plan that serves two purposes: Upgrading the quality of life of citizens and increasing the attractiveness of the area. On these two axes we are building the Western Greece of modern times.
TNH: What is your vision for private and government projects in Western Greece?
NF: From what I have already mentioned – but also from many other, smaller but perhaps equally important projects overall – you understand that Western Greece is changing. We are putting an end to a multitude of problems and shortcomings of the past and we are not only aiming to reach the level of other European regions, but in many cases to even be at the forefront of Europe. We have a complete plan for Western Greece in 2030 and we are moving it forward consistently.
TNH: What place does tourism have in your vision?
NF: Tourism is one of the three great pillars that will support the Western Greece of modern times. The other two are the rural economy and culture. That is why we are emphasizing outreach in order to make Western Greece known as a distinct tourist destination. With this aim, we tripled the resources for the tourism promotion for Western Greece and adopted the Tourism Promotion Action Plan, so that Western Greece can finally acquire a distinct identity around the world. And what better place to have at the heart of our endeavors, of course, than Ancient Olympia…This is how the phrase, ‘the land of the Olympics’ was born. Western Greece is being introduced all over the world as the ‘land of the Olympics,’ and starting with Olympia, we are presenting all the possibilities of the region in the tourism sector, which for us is not just a walk in a wonderful natural landscape or a sunbathing on a wonderful beach, but a total experience of images, sensations, and tastes.
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