Thursday, July 27, 2000

UC helps Crete with tourism

Professor from Greek island heads team

By Ben L. Kaufman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Led by a Cretan expatriate, a team from the University of Cincinnati is helping residents of that Greek island cope with overwhelming tourism.

        Lest the visitors suffer, their hosts put the faculty up in a five-star hotel on the beach, Brenda Scheer, associate professor of planning and team coordinator, said on Wednesday.

        “Not a bad life for six weeks ...”

        Students lived down the street, just not as well.

        Last year, the team led by Michael Romanos, a professor of planning, studied problems bedeviling the Aegean seaside municipality of Hersonissos and its 35,000 residents.

        He was the UC contact; his home village is part of the municipality.

Island a "hot spot'
        This year, Professor Scheer said, the team returned and created a plan to ease traffic congestion, promote regional economic development, and draw more affluent tourists than the Dutch and others who have identified Hersonissos as a “very hot spot.”

        The mayor of Hersonissos is moving to implement UC's recommendations, she said, and “they have enough funds to do things like this.”

        To cope with traffic, the team recommended a bypass for drivers not coming to Hersonissos, a bus terminal/turnaround for tourist vehicles that now try to maneuver narrow urban streets, and a pedestrian corridor in the city center.

        “It's so damned crowded at night that people are getting run over by scooters,” Professor Scheer said.

        Regional development, from the beaches into the hills, is aimed at creating jobs that aren't dependent on tourism and will keep people from “leaving the land and going where the action is” in the cities.

        Today, 96 percent of the jobs are related to tourism.

        Economic recommendations include better Internet connections in the villages to bring people back from the urban areas, a light industry/office park that will complement environmental goals, a business incubator to promote carpentry, masonry and related skills with micro-loans, and a “heritage park” that includes many of the villages and promises protection from developers.

Nicer tourists sought
        Tourism suffers from too many young adults consuming too much ouzo with too much energy and too little money, Professor Scheer said. The goal is to attract more people who will “spend money and be nice.”

        To start, the team recommended Hersonissos control advertising now handled by tour operators.

        In addition to planners, faculty and a dozen students were drawn from a variety of UC colleges and departments for the project.

        “I had a huge responsibility,” recalled Chris Ruthemeyer, 22, of White Oak, a senior in planning.

        This was his first year on Crete, and he worked on the economics underlying the regional business plan with Johanna Looye, associate professor of planning. “I got to write one chapter by myself and worked on the others with Professor Looye,” he said.

        It was the closest he'd collaborated with a professor, even after working at UC last year with Italians planning a technical campus for Milan.

        This summer's experience may prove life-changing for Mr. Ruthemeyer as well as the Cretans. He'd never considered economic planning as a field. “Now, I'm actually looking for economics-based jobs.”

        Would he return to Crete? “I'd probably do it in a minute” as long as it didn't delay graduation next year.

        Professor Scheer said Dr. Romanos chose her as team coordinator because she and her husband, David, an adjunct faculty member in architecture, run Scheer & Scheer Inc., where their work includes urban design projects.

        Crete, an island of 600,000 residents, hosts 3 million tourists a year.

        Enthusiasm for the team's approach and recommendations brought invitations from four more Cretan municipalities, Professor Scheer said, and negotiations have begun to see whether the money is there to bring them back to the island.


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