When I think of Greece, I think of Santorini with its pristine waters, Athens for its ancient Acropolis, and Meteora (because I interviewed Visit Meteora). However, little has been done to attract people to its abundant and diverse wildlife, and less has been done to conserve it.
That is what’s special about Natural Greece. They offer incredible nature-based tours in Greece that introduce clients to all sorts of wildlife, while ensuring that the entire experience remains sustainable and eco-friendly. This week on Spotlight, I am delighted to interview Chantel Kyriakopoulou-Beuvink, founder of the tour company Natural Greece.
Chantel is no stranger to nature and conservation. She was born and raised in the Netherlands where she studied International Agricultural Trade, and Agricultural and Environmental Economics. She then became an EU-Regulation expert at the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Fisheries and later as a Consultant in Environmental Management in the Netherlands.
She moved to Greece in 2006. Before founding Natural Greece, she worked in nature conservation as a Coordinator Corporate Partnership for the Hellenic Ornithological Society/BirdLife Greece, and as a volunteer for WWF Hellas. She got involved in the tourism industry in 2009 before founding Natural Greece in 2013. She has not looked back since then.
Can you tell me about your company and the tours you offer?
Natural Greece offers unique nature-based tours and multi-day holidays in Greece, a country with very rich and varied biodiversity, and fabulous natural landscapes and seascapes. Our team of excellent local guides possess great conservation knowledge, communication skills and a deep passion for their home-land. Our trips include:
- Conservation Travel opportunities
- Marine Eco Adventures
- Walking holidays with an eco-focus
- Birdwatching holidays
- Bear tracking trips
- Botanical tours
- General wildlife tours
Our expanding client base includes both renowned specialist tour operators and travellers from all over the world. Apart from all this I am a knowledgeable private tour guide for the wider Athens area myself! I love the interaction with clients from all over the world and they in return get a local, unique perspective on Greece.
How do your tours differ from nature tours run by other companies?
As a Greek-based tour operator, we can offer tours at a much better price compared to outbound tour operators. By booking with us directly, the traveller avoids the extra cost of intermediaries. Furthermore, our locally developed and operated trips guarantee that you will get to discover the “real” Greece through unique, authentic experiences.
Why have you decided to incorporate sustainable and eco-friendly approaches into your tours?
In a country with so many tourists, it makes perfect sense to preserve the foundations: its culture, heritage, nature and the environment. And not just to exploit it. Besides, many travellers are willing to “give back” while living an enriched visit in return. We firmly believe in “tourism as a tool for nature conservation”.
In fact, 10% of our profits are channelled to support various nature conservation efforts. This year, we are working with the wildlife charity CALLISTO that protect the bears and wolves of Greece, and the Hellenic Ornithological Society fighting the illegal hunting and trapping of birds.
Are you certified by The International Ecotourism Society? What was the process like to get certified?
I am a professional member of The International Ecotourism Society, a global network of like-minded professionals and industry leaders making the world a better place, one eco-trip at a time. We are in the process of becoming a Travelife Partner too. The Travelife certification programme provides tour operators and travel agents with a certification standard in order to evaluate, prove and communicate their sustainability achievements.
How did you hear about TrekkSoft?
Last year we were actively searching for a software solution that would facilitate online booking and payment procedures and expand our distribution network. Trekksoft was one of the companies we came across while researching online.
What made you decide to start using TrekkSoft?
After speaking to Anthony (online) and Stephen (face-to-face) from TrekkSoft’s team, we were convinced that TrekkSoft was our best option. For us, it was difficult to decide at the time, whether we should keep our current website and integrate TrekkSoft’s features, or start with a brand new TrekkSoft website. Stephen was able to explain the pros and cons of each solution in a very comprehensive way. As a result, we started our TrekkSoft journey by integrating TrekkSoft with our existing website. We might get a TrekkSoft powered website in the future, but we’ll wait and see.
How have you found TrekkSoft so far?
We have received support with integrating the online booking and payment features with our current website. We now accept all kinds of payments, whereas before the payment options for our clients were limited. Furthermore we are able to increase our visibility through an expanded network of distributors, directories and listings. We’re currently listed on Responsible Travel, Tours By Locals and Tour Radar. We use the Channel Manager feature a lot to manage our different distribution channels.
We also opted for an exclusive Google AdWords Package with an expert of TrekkSoft.
Do you have anything else you would like to share with our readers?
While the cultural heritage of Greece is universally known, its rich natural heritage is seriously underrated. In addition to that, many travellers tend to visit the same few well-known places in Greece. Some of them are overrated. So why not take travellers off the beaten path? Go walk the trails of Karpathos Island to find warm hospitality, cook the local food and pick the olives, set sail to Syros Island (that can easily compete with overpriced and crowded Mykonos Island) in the company of dolphins, visit the Peloponnese (Lonely Planet's best European destination for 2016) in search of Byzantine monuments and rare wildflowers or perhaps track the bears in one of Europe’s last wilderness areas.
As a tour operator, I find that keeping the people around you happy, whether they are team members, clients or service providers is a key success factor. No matter what niche you operate in.
Furthermore, we operate in a business environment and I have experienced firsthand that it is becoming more turbulent, complicated and unpredictable. It is easy to end up with the shotgun approach in marketing. That could work if you are a big player in tourism and you’ve got resources at your disposal, but most of us are not. So I would advise businesses to limit the amount of marketing channels they use and stick to what works for you.
Also, collaboration is a good idea. Smaller businesses, particularly start-ups, can benefit greatly from alliances with bigger and more established companies in order to close the credibility gap, expand the sales network and facilitate operations. We have found that TrekkSoft is willing and able to fulfill those roles.
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Written by Nicole Kow
Having graduated from the UK, Nicole travelled around Europe before joining TrekkSoft's marketing team. She is now based in KL and regularly blogs about her travels at Next Train Out.