In this interview with Antonis Petropoulos in Athens, Greece, learn about Ecoclub.com, a web portal and forum for ecotourism professionals. Antonis provides an insider’s view on the current state of sustainable tourism in Greece, a country and destination blessed with unique landscapes and rich heritage, but also facing many challenges on the sustainability front.
- The origin and purpose of Ecoclub.com, and how the platform has evolved over the years;
- Why the Ecotourism/Sustainable Tourism movement needs to be grassroots and led bottom-up;
- Which challenges Ecotourism operators and destinations struggle with;
- The current state of sustainable tourism in Greece;
- How to tell compelling sustainability stories.
Antonis, why did you start the International Ecotourism Club (ECOCLUB.com) in 1999?
After a rather brief career as an employee in the Shipping industry, a trip to Belize and a lot of soul-searching I decided not to wait for a mid-life crisis and do what I really wanted to do, and play my little part in the broad global movement for environmental and social justice, not through politics, but in a quiet, practical and pleasant way, through appropriate forms of tourism, such as ecotourism and through the new, revolutionary medium that was then the Internet.
Do you remember the first time you heard about ecotourism? What got you interested?
First of all I would like to thank you for this great opportunity, it feels funny being on the receiving end after having interviewed a number of people myself. I also feel I must clarify that I do not really see or wish to see myself as a “leader”.
From a social ecology and mutualist perspective, I distrust leaders and hierarchies and believe everyone must lead themselves – especially in a sector and a movement like ecotourism/sustainable tourism which is all about the grassroots.
I do not exactly remember when I first heard the very word “ecotourism” – it was certainly during the last century (!) perhaps in an academic article but I do remember the first time I practiced ecological tourism, without realising it at the time, when like many other young students of my generation, I travelled around Europe by rail (with an Interail pass), this was back in the summer of 1988.
Some forget that in Ecotourism, as in Cavafy’s famous poem (Ithaka), it is the journey that matters, how you reach your destination, along, of course, with the destination itself, the communities and the businesses and all tangible and intangible things that constitute a destination. I was interested in environmental and social issues from a young age, thanks to my parents and my teachers, and also greatly enjoyed travel, so ecotourism seemed the natural choice, the perfect combination.
As ecotourism community manager and online publisher, which have been the most significant changes over the last 15 years?
I would say the first dot-com boom and bust, the advent of Google search which killed the old directories, and finally the meteoric rise of the social media which is currently challenging Google and old-style media alike.
Somehow travel booking and review sites have survived by adapting and adopting, but also by being immune to the noise. We, as in we the 99%, have been fortunate that despite concentration and oligopoly tendencies, the Internet largely continues to offer a level-playing-field with low barriers to entry, with increasingly important open-source, creative-commons and crowd-funding options.