Greek town of Preveza bets on slow tourism to overcome virus
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Yannis Yovanos scans the waters of the Ambracian Gulf with his binoculars for dolphins shooting into the air before curving back down into the sea.
His early warnings prompt just a dozen tourists on the deck of Yovanos’ small boat to scramble for their smartphones, hoping to secure a snap of the aquatic mammals’ aerial acrobatics.
Officials in his home town of Preveza hope that it’s just this kind of small, family-run business that will help them overcome the coronavirus’ impact on travel — while sparing the region the environmental impact and economic distortions of the mass tourism more common on Crete or the Ionian islands.
“We don’t want to stay all day on a beach, we’re looking for a different experience,” said Dutch tourist Frederika Janssen.
“The pandemic is an opportunity to promote alternative tourism, fishing tourism,” as well as local life and culture “directly related to the natural resources that date from Antiquity,” said Constantin Koutsikopoulos, who heads the agency charged with managing the Ambracian Gulf.
Inside the gulf is a protected wetlands park, some 400 square kilometres (150 square miles) that is one of Europe’s Natura 2000 wildlife diversity regions.
One hundred and fifty dolphins, Loggerhead sea turtles and 300 species of aquatic birds including the rare Dalmatian pelican live in the lagoons and reed beds of the gulf.
Nestled between green hills, the Ambracian Gulf is fed by rivers descending from the mountains of the Epirus region of northwestern Greece.
Yovanos’ hometown guards the little strait that connects the gulf with the Ionian Sea.
Dolphin-watching trips like these mean “I am realising my dream of living the life of a fisherman among our natural riches,” said the 49-year-old from behind a greying beard. (AFP | Hélène COLLIOPOULOU)