Greek Travel after the Pandemic, Part 2: Giorgos Kontaxis of Zagorohoria’s Archontiko Dilofo

How has the COVID-19 crisis affected Greek tourism, and what are local tourism providers doing to recover from it? This series of exclusive interviews with specific Greek tourism entities gets to the heart of the key issues, as of mid-summer 2020.

By Chris Deliso

July 25, 2020

In the second part of this series, I take comments from Giorgos Kontaxis, former EOT Ioannina director and owner of the splendid Archontiko Dilofo, a restored guesthouse high in the Central Zagori Mountains of Epiros, and dating from 1633.

I covered Dilofo and the general Zagorohoria region in various Lonely Planet guides. Centered on an enormous, five-centuries old plane tree, the sleepy village of cobblestoned laneways and pastel doorways makes a good base for tackling the Vikos Gorge, or for simply getting away from it all, being much smaller and less visited than the major Zagori villages further north.

With its cozy and historic ambience, renovated rooms and local specialties on the menu, Archontiko Dilofo represents a great opportunity for savvy travelers wishing to enjoy a quiet mountain vacation.

Effects of the COVID Crisis on Local Tourism

When asked about how the pandemic has affected tourism in Ioannina and Zagorohoria, Kontaxis noted that “the anxiety of the tourist market for the reservations in the next period is characterized as particularly critical for the full occupancy of the hotels.”

However, the former Greek tourism official states that while the data received so far is ‘not satisfactory,’ local tourism providers have “expectations for possible stimulating the arrivals in August and September.”

Nevertheless, the pandemic, and resulting restrictions and fear of traveling among foreign publics have already had a ruinous effect generally. “It is also estimated that 40% of hotels will not open at all this season. In Ioannina and Dilofo Zagori, which are characterized as ‘clean areas’ (free of COVID-19),” states Kontaxis.

He adds that experts estimate “the occupancy of hotels is at 30% of last year. There is optimism that unless something unexpected happens, it will go better and approach 50% of 2019 totals (by year’s end).”

Despite General Pandemic-Related Declines, Dilofo and Zagori Remain Resilient

All that said, despite the large downturn in hotel bookings in Ioannina and across Epiros this year due to the virus, the little village of Dilofo – perhaps indeed due to its remoteness and tranquility – has been able to operate more normally.

Kontaxis states that visitors to the Archontiko this summer have tended to come from Northern European countries like the Netherlands, Germany and France- as well as internal Greek tourists.

“Zagori is known to be a pristine area in the northwestern mountains of Greece, having a unique natural environment with rich fauna and flora, but also with many walking routes and mountaineering trails across 46 traditional villages,” says Kontaxis,

This blend of natural beauty, outdoor activities and historic structures like Byzantine churches attract over 50,000 visitors annually, he adds.

The Zagori region has benefited from its geographic isolation during the pandemic among tourists stressed to minimize human contact- while discounted prices have proven tempting as well.

“Many travelers have come other times, but also many friends of friends have come,” says the Archontiko Dilofo owner. ”Also many have heard and know that there is no overcrowding here, and it is a good opportunity to visit us now, also because prices have been reduced by 20 to 30%.”

Some New Looks at a Very Old Place

With its foundations laid in 1633 and successive renovations carried out through the 19th century, the Archontiko Dilofo remains a piece of living history attesting to a bygone time of rural Greek village opulence. Its seven rooms feature fireplaces, unique artwork and various original fixtures and antiques.

Further, in 2018 a major renovation took place, “with new furniture and equipment and decoration, always in the context of the traditional structure” being added.

Visitors concerned with more modern measures, in the context of the pandemic, will be happy to note that operations have taken into consideration “all measures according to the Health protocol provided by the World Health Organization, and also the Ministry of Tourism,” adds Kontaxis. “The most characteristic is the rich buffet of our traditional breakfast that is now served by each of us individually.”

Appraisal of Tourism Crisis Management: High Marks for the National Tourism Organization

Considering his former experience with EOT in Ioannina, Giorgos Kontaxis has a uniquely informed view of how the Greek government and tourism authorities responded to the COVID-19 crisis. Overall, he gives them high marks.

“The Ministry did what it had to do,” Kontaxis concludes. “Even during the quarantine, the Ministry of Tourism and EOT did not stop working. EOT was one of the few Tourism Organizations in Europe that campaigned in quarantine.”

Describing the Greek approach as “an excellent effort, which received rave reviews,” Kontaxis claims the GREECE FROM HOME initiative “helped us a lot to keep the image of the country at a very good level, at a time when it was very hard for everyone.”

The tourism veteran is also confident that authorities will continue to oversee the restart of tourism in a careful and constructive manner. “We are opening the season safely,” he says, “and that is why we must be very careful in which countries they open so that we do not have problems with the spread of the pandemic.”

Also, Kontaxis concludes that although Greek tourism is now moving, it is in ‘uncharted waters,’ and “at the moment no one knows how tourism will move this year, as it is ‘moving sand’, we must stay ‘alive’ in 2020, even at a lower level, to be able to make the leap for 2021.”.

A Preview- Anniversary Expectations and Plans for Epiros Tourism

On that note, Kontaxis offers some final inside information on the importance of tourism to Greece for next year’s bicentennial, and some steps local officials are taking to prepare for it.

Thus, according to an announcement from the Municipality of Ioannina, the city “will actively participate and has formed a committee ‘Ioannina 2021,’” he says.

Further, local mayor Moussis Elisaf and Mrs. Angelopoulou, chair of the Greece 2021 committee “agreed to hold two international conferences in Ioannina with the participation of the university and other bodies.”

If everything goes according to plan, there will also be a series of lectures and musical events with the musical ensembles of the Cultural Center, Kontaxis says, adding that “there will be activities that will capture the potential of Ioannina in innovation and new technologies, in medicine and transplants as well as in silversmithing”.

Also in 2021, Kontaxis planes to make some unique exhibits at his own guesthouse as well.

“We will make an exhibition of relics of past centuries from our rich collection of books from 1609 to 1845 printed by the Giannioti printers in Venice or Vienna as well as household items, decorative, painted dishes, bronze items and women’s jewelry.”

Dilofo, 32km from Epiros´ capital city of Ioannina, is located just before the entrance to the Vikos Gorge

 

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