Building a sustainable recovery back from wildfire disaster in Northern Evia, Greece

In August 2021, Northern Evia, the northern part of Evia, the second largest island in Greece and a place of unique biodiversity, suffered one of the worst natural disasters in the country’s history, with the New York Times calling it “a capital of the consequences of a warming planet”.

In recent years, as global heating has accelerated, the number of natural disasters has increased to unprecedented magnitude and frequency, worldwide, with no sign of slowing down. In 2021, alone, 432 catastrophic events related to natural hazards were recorded, well above the average of 357 annual catastrophic events that were recorded between 2001 and 2020.

According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, it typically takes a destination an average of16.2 months to recover from a natural disaster, however wildfires can take anything from just one month to 93 months, . The range is indicative of the preventative measures taken, the value of destination management and marketing and what these can do to increase resilience. Successful solutions vary from dedicated  strategic plans and funding structures (e.g. in the UK after the floods in 2014) to location-specific initiatives undertaken by community groups and local influencers (e.g the intervention of Massimo Bottura shortly after the 2012 earthquake in Italy). Understanding what worked and what didn’t in the past is the essential first step for a destination to develop a plan adjusted to its unique  characteristics and needs.

Our Work with the National Reconstruction Committee

As a consequence of the disaster in North Evia, the Greek Government established the National Reconstruction Committee for the recovery and regeneration of North Evia, a unique initiative in the country’s planning tradition since it was bigger, more holistic and more people-centred than had been seen before. At Toposophy, we are proud to have been part of a wide range of efforts aimed at addressing the environmental and financial impact of Northern Evia’s wildfires. Our team developed a benchmarking report on destination recovery initiatives following natural disasters, based on both primary and secondary research sources and insights.

For the scope of this report, it was also essential to take into account a series of challenges besides the wildfires’ direct effects (e.g. the reduced number of visits and overnights in 2020 and 2021 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, population shrinkage, and the lack of a concrete place brand and a dedicated destination strategy before the wildfires had occurred). 

The benchmarking report, which supplements the destination marketing pillar of the reconstruction program, sources ideas and strategies from international destinations that experienced similar crises. Crucially, it adapts them to the place-specific conditions of Northern Evia through the form of actionable guidelines (e.g. development of tourism product inventory, development of a domestic tourism campaign to highlight the contribution of tourism to recovery efforts). In that way, it aims to contribute to the recovery, resilience and increased competitiveness of Northern Evia for the benefit of the local community.

What did we do?

  • Carried out extensive secondary research to understand the state of the destination, as well as the impact of the disaster.
  • Conducted interviews with selected local professionals, as well as site inspections in the region to fill any gaps identified due to limited  data.
  • Interviewed international experts in crisis and disaster recovery marketing.
  • Participated in the work meetings of the National Reconstruction Committee for the recovery and regeneration of North Evia, in order to be constantly aligned with their goals, as well as contact with other researchers working on other recovery pillars for potential synergies.
  • Examined almost 50 case studies of crisis management and recovery with a focus on specific cases based on their relevance, level of success, completeness of data and their capacity to provide suitable lessons for Northern Evia.
  • Carried out an extensive review of the most relevant strategies, initiatives and their results, as well as the success factors and key takeaways.
  • Provided actionable guidelines based on the analysis and matched them with the current situation of the destination, the underlying best practices and a series of strategic priorities.

Common Ground

Are you interested in this topic? Then subscribe to Common Ground, Toposophy’s podcast series, so you won’t  miss our next episode. We’ll be heading to New York to learn how a design  competition is bringing together architects  and communities to build resilience into the city’s urban fabric, we’ll also hear from the Mayor of San Jose about a new community task force that is tackling the climate crisis in California and we head to Australia where scientists are using the data from past bushfires to better prepare for future hazards.





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