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New website gives visitors a chance to gain insider tips

By Ioanna Fotiadi

It takes a lot of luck, skill or both for a foreigner to discover the well-hidden secrets of any destination when visiting for the first time. Getting the kind of tips that turn a good holiday into a great one normally takes a chat with the locals, no matter where you are.

Three friends who live in Athens -- Andreas Lytis, Constantinos Leimonis and Dimitris Iliopoulos -- all computer science students, experienced this firsthand while traveling around Europe, going to countries where they knew people. The difference the insider tips made to their trips gave them the idea about a year ago to launch a new website doing just that for foreign visitors to Greece -- www.greeceinsiders.com.

We want to bring locals into contact with visitors, explained 23-year-old Lytis. We want Greeks to take them by the hand and show them all the hidden beauties of this land.

In the 1960s and 70s, when tourism had not yet become an industry and people were less skeptical, it was common to see old folks pointing stunned travelers in the direction of the best place to eat or describing to them their traditional way of life, even though few in the villages or on the islands spoke any foreign languages.

It is this concept that the group took to a new level -- putting some cash into the pockets of local communities along the way.

On the site, locals who are interested in participating just have to sign in and give a few basic personal details, including the foreign languages they speak. After that, they need to describe the experience they would like to share with a visitor.

The experience can be about food, sports, nightlife, outdoor activities or a workshop, like teaching pottery or cheesemaking, Lytis explained. It can be a walk to a place where the sunset is beautiful, a tip about a pristine beach, a pretty walk, a traditional delicacy or a local legend.

The guide gives the experience he or she wants to share a title, an estimate of how long it takes, and a price. The traveler, whether Greek or foreign, can read a description of the experiences listed and choose the one best suited to him or her.

Its a great way to promote a different aspect of Greece, to attract travelers who have a broad range of interests and help locals make some money, Lytis said.

Lytis has often taken tourists around Athens -- at no charge. Once I took some visitors to a few of the citys secret gardens and another time to the lesser-known beaches near Athens, he said.

The City of Athens has also embraced a similar initiative with the Athens Local program, which is advertised on the webpage This Is My Athens. Here, Athenians share information about their favorite places and stories about their home city.

Meanwhile, the young men behind www.greeceinsiders.com are hoping that following the success of their city guide www.mysecretathens.gr a few years ago, this new idea will also catch on and win fans.

Online insider guides are nothing new in other parts of the world, especially in popular destinations.

Another Greek, Angelis Nannos, moved to Istanbul four years ago and began an online diary of his experiences, the things he saw and the people he spoke to. Today, his blog has around 6,000 unique visitors a month, and he often receives requests from people for tours.

It is from up close that they realize that the usual stereotypes are light years away from the actual reality, said Nannos. These are the travelers who eventually become avid fans of a particular place.

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