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i-THEA

It is generally approved that the unique and diverse cultural resources are a major component of the cross border area's tourism assets and that cultural tourism is a key economic sector in terms of potential for growth and employment. The tourist activity though, is still concentrated on the coastal areas of Epirus and its mountainous part such as the one of the Prefecture of Gjirokaster, however culturally rich may be, they still remain to be 'exploited' as an asset for cultural tourism, which is the target of this project proposal and the common challenge they need to tackle. In order for cultural heritage sites to serve as the 'engine' for tourism and regional development to their full potential responsibly, as well as increase the overall attractiveness of the region in the frame of a global economy and globalized market, they must be promoted through strategic management and marketing actions. They must be promoted as "branded" tourist products, following a holistic plan designed and implemented by a Structure created and dedicated to their management.

As a result, the overall objective of the project is "To strike a balance between sustainable conservation and development of the economic and social potential of cultural heritage, through the creation and management of a Cultural Branded Destination Route" and the main output, that derives from it, is the creation and management of the 'Ancient Theatres and Sites Route' as a Branded Destination. The innovation, originality and the change this output is about to bring has to do with the management and the marketing plan of this Cultural Route, which aims to promote it as a holistic tourist product. For the first time -at least in Epirus and Gjirokaster- a 'Cultural Destination Management Structure' CDMS study will be produced with the aim to lead to an integrated model of governance, which will be socially inclusive, investing in human capital. The beneficiaries will be the local communities,authorities, stakeholders and entrepreneurs on tourism, students and of course tour operators and potential travelers-tourists.

This project emphasizes the importance of developing interregional and cross –border cultural and tourism products and services which are based on coordinated action, built on synergies, save resources, and strengthen and promote the common cultural identity and the competitiveness of the entire region. It also supports the creation of common initiatives that increase the visibility of cultural sites and aspires to establish the cross border area as a 'branded' destination. This cross border approach is expected to add value to the exchange and transfer of experiences and knowledge between the participating countries but most importantly to add value to their cultural tourism development and offer.

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