At the World Travel Market in London I met my good friend Panos who I haven’t seen in two years now. We know each other from our studies in the Netherlands and have later on worked together in tourism research projects in Sydney, Chiang Mai and Bali. Since that time, a lot has happened. Panos moved back to Athens where he just opened his own business. An adventure tourism company which provides authentic adventure experiences in Greece and which is based around the concept of sustainable tourism. Sitting down and striving in memories I also asked him everything I wanted to know about what he is doing now.
1. Panos, you have come around quite a lot in the world and went back to Greece. Tell us more about you, your travels and your motivation to open an adventure tourism company in Greece?
Hi there, I’m Panos and I was born and raised in Athens, Greece. Ever since I was a kid in school, I was fascinated by the subject of physical and human geography, which intrigued me to start doing some research on my future travel destinations. After backpacking through 30 countries across 4 continents, from the Canadian Rocky Mountains and the volcanoes of Iceland, to the pristine jungles of South-East Asia and the remote islands of the South Pacific, i still have an addiction to traveling, a passion for new adventures and the curiosity to learn more about worldwide different cultures. Looking into the future, i couldn’t see myself having another job, other than one in the travel industry. Traveling around Greece, exploring its extremely diverse landscapes and vibrant ever-changing culture, I realized that there is a treasure lying in my backyard which i almost ignored. For more than 10 years i have been following the bearings of my travel compass, seeking to find my ‘True North’ in wonderful places around the globe until i realised I was in love with my own country, the European ‘True South’. That was a highly motivating factor that drove me to establish an adventure travel agency in Greece. I wanted to share the treasures i discovered here with other travellers from all around the world. As far as the ‘adventure’ style of traveling is concerned, I believe that it is the ideal way of exploring a new destination, its natural and cultural secrets, from the most isolated islands to the remotest mountain villages.
2. What is Bearing True South all about?
Bearing True South is a project that came into fruition early 2014. Along with my childhood friend and documentary photographer, Stavros Makris we founded the company early 2014. A wonderful team of passionate travel professionals, each one specializing in a different aspect of our adventures, came along and we organize nature based guided tours around Greece. Avid travellers ourselves, we have the objective of sharing with our fellow travellers, memorable, authentic and ‘place dependent’ traveling experiences, introducing them to the unexplored parts of our ‘True South’.
What is important to us at Bearing True south is sticking to our core values, the guiding principles that dictate our responsible behaviour towards the host destinations when we personally travel. We want to make sure that our tours around Greece leave a positive mark on everyone involved in that process, the host communities we visit, the natural environment, our visitors, even ourselves. That might sound easier said than done, however it keeps us motivated and committed to our goal as a travel company; to become a pioneer when it comes to high quality, responsible travel in Greece. In this respect, whether we are on a 4×4 off-road road trip, a sailing holiday, a multi-activity adventure week or a diving exploration, we constantly strive for minimum environmental footprint, encourage the interaction and cultural exchange between our visitors and the host communities always with respect to both sides, emphasize in spreading the economic benefits as much as possible to the local communities, by staying at family-run traditional guesthouses, eating local food products, employing local outdoor activity instructors and local guides were needed.
3. I know it takes a lot of work and challenges which need to be overcome to start an own business in tourism. How difficult was it for you guys to realize the idea from the beginning until what it is today?
First of all, it’s a totally different thing working for a travel agency than owning and managing one. A first challenge Stavros and I had to face was the fact that, although we were confident about our business idea, we had no previous experience in starting our own business. We were fully aware of the amount of personal work required to put into this project but to be honest, there were days that we felt completely lost. It felt like a case of a blind leading a blind. By sharing our idea and vision about Bearing true South with certain, like-minded when it comes to traveling, highly skilled, charismatic individuals, we were lucky enough to establish a consistent and effective professional team, a fact that facilitated our next steps.
Another great challenge we have to deal with at Bearing True South is working with locals in every destination we visit, while at the same time, ensure that they share the same values as we do in our team when it comes to responsible and respectful behaviour towards the visitor. Choosing to explore the ‘off the beaten track’ parts of Greece on our tours, we came to realize that the whole concept of responsible adventure tourism is relatively new in many Greek villages we visit, especially on the highlands, compared to more mature destinations such as the Greek islands for example.
Coming to where we are today, ready to welcome our first groups of visitors in Spring 2015, we face another challenge; the image of Greece as a destination. Traditionally a summer season, 3S (sea,sun,sand) destination for most travellers, Greece is not the first to come in mind when thinking about adventure and year round outdoor activities. And that is one of our goals at Bearing True South; Having realized and appreciated ourselves the true potential of our country in becoming a well-known, year round, adventure tourism destination, we want to transfer this image we have about Greece to our fellow travellers.
4. Panos, you did a lot of travelling in the past years. What was the best or most shaping travel adventure of yours?
It is true that I have travelled quite a lot around the world especially during the past 7 years. In my opinion there is no best travel adventure in the life of a traveller. Each one is unique, of different sentimental value, it happens in a different place and is shared with different people. However, If i have to choose the most shaping adventure among my travels, that would be the first; my trip to Canada back in 2007 along with two good friends of mine, George and Aris. We were 21, first time traveling that far away from home, without any previous, serious travel experiences. So little experience we had, that we left having in mind to rent a car and do a road trip around Canada, but none of us had a credit card. As a result no car rental company would provide us a vehicle. Although the whole travel concept turned out to be a lot different than originally planned, that is when i decided what I want to do in my life. Explore the world. Since then, on every adventure of mine, I always remind myself the first time I realized the priceless value of traveling. The first time I imagined myself living in a country that far away from home. It was the adventure that shaped my lifestyle as world traveller.
5. If you would have the choice, is there anything in your life you would have done differently?
Honestly there is nothing in my life that i would claim it should be done differently. No serious choice that i regret making. I fulfilled my academic interests by studying Maths in my bachelors and Tourism Destination Management in my masters, followed my passion for traveling and satisfied my curiosity by seizing every opportunity I had. I shared wonderful experiences with great people wherever my travel compass pointed each time. All these experiences, passion, personal ambitions and interests combined, played a critical role in my decision to start working on the Bearing True South project. It’s the time when I felt ready to take my life one step forward, follow my dream and turn my lifestyle as a traveler into a professional job. My friends here in Greece always kept saying that starting my own travel company would be my ideal future. All i can say now is that they were absolutely right. I didn’t let them or myself down.
Thanks a lot Matthias for your interest in getting to know better what we do at Bearing true South and sharing it with your fellow travel blog followers! We hope to see you soon on one of our adventures around Greece and have together a memorable traveling experience. By then have safe travels guys.
…for giving us some insight about you and your work! Was good to see you again in London after such a long time! See you in Summer 2015!