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The added value of LEADER

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A collective body to take on
the Pindus mountains:

Quality at the summit

 

Created by four LEADER groups, the Pindos association is transcending administrative borders to tackle the problems specific to Greece’s central mountain range. A pilot action is under way to develop quality tourism. Eventually, it may be extended to the other economic sectors of the Greek mountain areas.

The “backbone” of Greece, the Pindus range encompasses twelve nome (departments), spread over five regions: Epirus, Western Macedonia, Thessaly, Central Greece and Western Greece. Despite its relatively modest altitude - 2,637 m at Mount Smólikas -, this vast mountain zone more or less hermetically separates the eastern and western sections of the country. And in the deep interior of the very jagged Pindus mountains, communications are difficult between very scattered pockets of population.

During the preparation of their local action plan, five LEADER II groups together came up with a development project specifically aimed at those parts of their area of intervention located in the Pindus, but none of the LAGs alone had the means to coordinate the mechanism.

In 1998, four of the five initial partners - Amvrakikos (Epirus), Kalambaka-Pyli, Karditsa (Thessaly) and Kozani (Western Macedonia) - created with the Institute of Rural Economy of Evritania (Central Greece) the “Pindus” association. In 1999, it obtained the status of LEADER II collective body and had a budget of about EUR 2.3 million. In March 2000, 8 other LEADER groups also became members of the association.

The creation of Pindos, the prototype of inter-territorial cooperation, arose from the need to give the Pindus a development instrument that could cross administrative borders and meet the specific needs of this mountain environment in the form of coordination, technical assistance and other intangible investments.

The reason why this was important was because the Pindus is like “the other Greece”, a country threatened with desertification but whose weaknesses can be turned into assets if authenticity and discovery are the focus of attention. Thanasis Zacharopoulos, head of Pindos, is convinced of this: “A well-preserved environment, living traditions and local products are all elements that the Pindus have. They satisfy current demand and are therefore vehicles of development.”

Tourism was the association’s first concern. To develop it, Pindos devised a three-pronged strategy based on quality accommodation, direct contact with the area and the centralised marketing of holidays.

 

Local Quality Pacts


To help people discover the area, Pindos developed various tools, including an Internet site, a CD-ROM and a guide for hiking in eight regions of the Pindus.

As far as marketing is concerned, the aim is to set up a tour operator service offering twenty package holidays of at least one week.

However in the short term, Pindos is focusing its efforts on the creation of a quality label, and a pilot action has been launched for this purpose. In the first phase, 80 restaurant and/or hotel owners in the Pindus are expected to adhere to a “Local Quality Pact”. In the beginning, four LEADER areas will each have their own Pact, based on a gradual and cumulative system of rewards. This will encourage the proprietors to improve the quality of the services. Because the action is in the mountains, the traditional stars are being replaced here by “peaks”:

  • one peak is for the quality of the decoration, the aesthetic look of the place. A list of specifications indicates the type of materials, furniture, equipment, etc. to be used. Wood and other noble materials - whenever possible local and environmentally friendly - are the standard;

  • two peaks are for establishments which, in addition to having a pleasant decor, have a quality staff that is professional, friendly, and speak foreign languages. A training course in how to welcome visitors is provided;

  • three peaks are awarded for quality food and the use of local products (menus with regional specialities, traditional recipes, etc.);

  • four peaks are for the architectural quality of the buildings. “This is the criterion that generally requires the heaviest investment,” says Thanasis Zacharopoulos. “If financial assistance is needed, it is provided by the LEADER group working in the area of the project concerned”;

  • lastly, five peaks are reserved for establishments that fulfil the four previous criteria while offering that little “extra” that puts it in the top-of-the-range category.

Every criterion and standard was first the subject of technical studies then a list of specifications. The hotel-restaurant owner is judged by his peers. The peaks are awarded by a monitoring committee within each local Pact, and the committee can also take them away if the quality goes down.

The pilot action of the Local Quality Pact will gradually be extended to the eight other LEADER areas which recently joined Pindos. In parallel to its implementation, the association is planning to introduce a four-phase strategy by the year 2002. It will begin with the organisation of a quality management course for the personnel of the LEADER groups. Then training will be organised for the coordinators of the Local Quality Pacts. This will be followed by the application of the model to the wood sector. In the fourth and final phase, the model will be reproduced in other sectors of the local economy.

Thanasis Zacharopoulos recalls the profound meaning of the action: “Ten years of LEADER experience have shown that the real added value of the Initiative is the support for collective actions, much more than the grants for individual projects. LEADER funding is much too modest for that in any case.”

  • Contact:
    PINDOS a/s Thanasis Zacharopoulos,
    3 Asklipiou Str.,
    GR-2100 Trikala.
    Tel & Fax: +30 431 77 911 (77 912 / 77 913)
    E-mail: pindos@kar.forthnet.gr

 

source: LEADER Magazine nr.23 - Summer 2000


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