The Greek island of Skiathos is not new to tourism. With its lush forests and crystal clear emerald waters it was one of the most popular islands in the 1970s and 80s, welcoming tourists from around the globe seeking a bit of paradise.

The island’s popularity hit a slump after the 1990s mostly due to lacking transport options. Located in the Sporades, in the northwest Aegean Sea, Skiathos is today home to some 6,000 permanent residents. In the summers, more than 450,000 vacationers call it their paradise.

In the last few years, Skiathos is making a very strong comeback. So much so that The Times singled it out as the place to be this year.

Greek Island Skiathos Rebrands as Culture and Experiences Destination

Lalaria beach – Photo credit: Skiathos Municipality

This week, I spoke with Skiathos Mayor Thodoris Tzoumas about efforts to rebrand the island as a culture destination that combines sports and adventure activities, gastronomy, concerts and happenings.

A Greek Mayor in the Field

Tzoumas is not your usual mayor sitting in an office making decisions from a desk. Instead he is always on the go in the field doing everything from planning events and participating in international fora to driving a minibus full of journalists if necessary.

Before being elected as mayor, he volunteered for several projects promoting the culture of Skiathos, including serving as founding member of the island’s Cultural Workshop and the Skiathos Maritime and Cultural Tradition Museum and president of the “I Skiathos” Cultural Society. He also helped organize the International Alexandros Papadiamantis Conference in 2011 and the island’s Special Olympics Hellas project. And has worked with the “Sustainable Aegean” program visiting over 20 Greek islands to raise awareness among the locals about sustainable development and best practices. In 2017, he was awarded for his volunteer work.

In his second term as mayor of Skiathos, the 45-year-old has taken on several projects aimed at showcasing the island’s cultural legacy, namely as the birthplace of one of Greece’s greatest writers: Alexandros Papadiamantis.

Turning to Culture to Enhance the Tourist Experience

“Our goal is to tap into every single comparative advantage Skiathos has to offer and that includes its cultural legacy and heritage,” Tzoumas tells To Vima English Edition.

Prioritizing sustainability, the Skiathos Municipality was the first in Greece to seek the guidance of UN Tourism, the UN agency promoting responsible, sustainable, and accessible tourism.

In 2020, in cooperation with the Culture Ministry, the municipality launched the 4-million-euro restoration of the Medieval settlement of Kastro. The spectacular site built on a rugged cliff overlooking the Aegean Sea is scheduled to open to the public by fall.

The idea, explains Tzoumas, started from reading the works of Papadiamantis, who was born on the island in 1851 and whose stories feature Kastro. Papadiamantis’ own home in the town of Skiathos was renovated and reopened in 2022 as a museum.

Greek Island Skiathos Rebrands as Culture and Experiences Destination

Mandraki beach. Photo credit: Skiathos Municipality

Changing the Perception of Skiathos

Currently, Skiathos is a favorite Greek destination for British travelers who account for 60% of all arrivals. With its own airport, Skiathos is connected with 38 cities in 17 countries and in 2023 welcomed approximately 250,000 international visitors and 200,000 Greeks.

“Lots of work has gone into this achievement and in very difficult times,” he says, adding that after the pandemic, the municipality secured a direct flight from Paris, and negotiations are underway to add Brussels, Madrid, and Barcelona.

“​​Opening up to new markets is a crucial part of sustainable tourism development as it reduces our dependence on markets that almost monopolize activity and minimizes the risk of financial loss,” he tells To Vima English Edition.

Hiking, Cycling, Accessibility on Skiathos

For the past decades, Skiathos has won travelers over for its post-card perfect beaches. As times change, however, so does traveler demand for new experiences, says Tzoumas, that’s why in 2022, the municipality set up a 100km network of 15 hiking paths and launched the Skiathos Trails app.

“We cleared and signposted the trails using eco-friendly materials, published a map, created a route for people with disabilities. For the fourth year in a row, four Skiathos beaches have been equipped with Seatrac ramps which enable unassisted sea access for people with disability or mobility issues.

Skiathos also hosted in collaboration with the World Trail Network the World Trails Conference in 2022 for the first time in Greece.

Additionally, Skiathos is a certified “Bike Friendly Destination” for its bicycle network and efforts to encourage cycling.

The mayor goes on to add that currently the municipality has secured ‘green’ funding for the creation in collaboration with NGO Diadrasis of the “Heritage Paths of Skiathos” which aim to promote a sustainable tourism model that safeguards and showcases the island’s cultural and natural heritage by engaging locals in sustainable actions.

And for the first time, a private venture teamed up with the urban transport  companies of Volos and Magnesia to set up Skiathos Transport with new buses operating frequent routes at a low cost to meet the demand. Tzoumas said the routes and frequency are adapted depending on the crowds at the 21 pick up stops across the island.

Mamma Mia, Plane Spotting & Sailing

Very few people know that Skiathos is a favorite plane-spotters site thanks to its airport runway which is on a strip of land in the middle of the sea making for perfect Instagram shots and TikTok stories.

Greek Island Skiathos Rebrands as Culture and Experiences Destination

Skiathos town: Photo credit: Skiathos Municipality

Parts of the island also featured in blockbuster Mamma Mia which was mostly filmed on Skopelos but many people from Skiathos worked on the film. “People today know Skiathos as the “Mamma Mia island,” he says, adding that for the past 20 years Hollywood stars like Goldie Hawn, Kurt Russel, and Kate Hudson have served as Skiathos’ best ambassadors.

A popular sailing destination thanks to mild weather and winds, Skiathos still needs to upgrade its 120-berth marina. Tzoumas tells To Vima English Edition that in collaboration with Greece’s public assets body, a tender for a 400-berth marina will be announced in 2025. Once completed, it could accommodate recreational watercraft and mega yachts positioning Skiathos as a top sailing destination with its own international airport in the heart of the Aegean. He goes on to add that the project will respect the size and scale of the island and consist mainly of floating platforms.

What’s more, the municipality recently introduced the pilot “Zero Waste Rota (Ask)” program which encourages professional boats offering day trips to recycle. A small electric vehicle will collect the trash and by the end of this year, Tzoumas hopes to have statistics on the impact of day cruises on the island.

The tourist season is getting longer for Skiathos. According to the mayor, the first arrivals started in April with traffic slowing down in November. In addition to the Brits, travelers from Italy, Scandinavia, Romania and Germany vacation on the island.

“The target is to establish Skiathos as a destination people choose to visit because of its uniqueness and its experiences and not just because it is one more ‘touristy’ island,” he says.

Closing our interview, I asked Mayor Tzoumas how he would like travelers to describe Skiathos: “Like a place they love and want to come back to very soon,” he says.