Greek UU graduate finds success in Corfu amidst recession
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Recession is regarded as the worst time to start a business, but austerity has actually inspired one Greek graduate from the Utrecht University to launch tourism initiatives – going against accepted business wisdom.
Alex and Christina Christou left the northern city of Thessaloniki in 2006 for the island of Corfu relocating to Alex’s birthplace, Arillas, at the north-east coast, in 2009. “We saw the crisis coming and were looking for a safe place,” says Alex. A chemistry graduate from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Alex had been working in IT when they decided to make the move to start both a family and a web design company. “We decided that we could be self-sufficient here,” he continues. “I had friends in Corfu, and we believed that we could make a difference.”
Residents of the Greek islands have a reputation for being adept multi-taskers – working as tourism operators, agriculturalists, builders and service sector workers according to the season.
In 2010, they launched Green Corfu, an online network with a coalition of friends from established new-age start-ups with the intention to promote alternative tourism in Corfu.
Corfu used to be one of the first Greek destinations to welcome mass tourism in the 1960s. However, parts of the island have been in decline since the early 1990s. The upmarket resorts of the north-east coast have suffered the least, but much of the island has been desperately in need of a new strategy ever since.
Green Corfu incorporates all the activities that fall under the catch-all term of “alternative tourism” – sailing and water-sports, hiking, cycling, therapy and meditation holidays. They also organize conferences on sustainability for local businesses and promoting Corfiot products. These include wines, handicrafts, gourmet foodstuffs and olive oil.
“More people have harvested their olives this year,” says Alex, “rather than sitting on their backsides.”
Green Corfu is persuading restaurants and bars to buy local, “rather than buying our lemons from China”. As their slogan says, it starts with a village.
“The first thing you can do is go shopping,” Alex says. “We can turn a small village into something different. I see it already happening in Arillas, and it’s not just us. If we get more visitors, I think the other resorts will follow.”