“We’ve been more active in ICCA over the past few years since we’ve been trying to find ways to grow the association business in the region,” says Eliza Tsolakou, general manager of This is Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau, who also serves as the chairperson for the ICCA Mediterranean Chapter. “We have important industry sectors we want to develop, and we plan on doing that by attracting know-how through international conferences.”
Strength in Sectors
Athens has already established a presence in the industry with sectors like maritime, sports, architectural design and culture, but This is Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau is building its Ambassador Program to grow sectors like IT and become something of a start-up hub. “The clusters we have in scientific and medical communities are very well developed—especially the medical sector—and we are working hard to develop a membership scheme to match demand and supply,” Tsolakou says.
Athens was the destination of choice last May for the European Society of Cardiology’s Heart Failure 2019 6th World Congress on Acute Heart Failure, which drew 5,400 attendees to the city. In addition, last August Athens hosted the 85th IFLA (International Federation of Library Associations and Institutions) World Library and Information Congress—the world’s most international library conference—an annual event that brings together over 3,500 attendees from 120 countries.
This was a big win for the city, considered the cradle of democracy and home to the world’s first public library. Over 500 speakers led discussions at 250 open sessions, and 11 sessions were live-streamed to thousands across the globe. “In Athens, we keep having record numbers in attendance,” says Tsolakou. “We want to achieve a sustainable role in the business. It’s not just about bringing conferences or people to our city, it’s about things that really make sense—both with visiting associations and with the local community.
In an effort to draw attention to the city and up the interest for bids, the CVB is curating a network of ambassadors both locally and abroad who will promote Athens as a conference destination. “Things have been rolling quite well, but the challenge is to incorporate more people in this effort, and to keep their interest high, you need to build this trust and sense of meaning,” explains Ambassador Program manager, Lenia Kontogouri. “Our primary goal is to create strong and trusting relationships with the community and spread the shared goal of promoting Athens as a leading conference destination. We aspire to be the first stop of the scientific and corporate Athenian community when it comes to considering hosting an event.”
One key example is Stamatios Krimigis, the chair of “Science of Space” at the Academy of Athens, who championed the city and helped Athens win the bid (in the first round, no less) for the nine-day Council of the Space and Research Committee conference, COSPAR2022, in July 2022, which will draw nearly 4,000 delegates and university students.
Since the Athens International Airport (AIA) opened in 2001, it’s been one of the fastest-growing globally, with 65 airlines flying to 170 destinations across 56 countries. Greece’s largest—and main—carrier, Aegean, acts as a bridge between countries, operating across 153 destinations in Europe and Asia.
Last year alone, Aegean added five new countries and 10 new destinations to its flight map, and between 2020 and 2024, the airline will roll out a new product—a reformed business class on 42 of its 61 aircraft. “It’s a long-term strategy and investment,” explains Irini Sidiropoulou, Aegean sales manager for North Greece and the Balkan countries. “In Greece, you need to have a strong airline, to strengthen the country’s position in Europe.”
It’s a Rebirth
Over the past three years, Greece’s economy has been slowly growing, improving at a rate of about 2.2 percent, according to CNBC. This growth can be seen in the capital, where 21 new hotels are slated to debut between 2019 and 2020. The city is home to familiar brands like Intercontinental, but the newcomers—which will be a mix of mostly 4- and 5-star properties—will be boutique Greek hotels.
Not many capitals can claim a Riviera just 30 minutes from the city centre, but this rapidly developing area is one of Athens’ major selling factors (and best-kept secrets). The 48-kilometre stretch along the city’s southern coast was once celebrity hideaway and hub for sailing, since there’s a number of harbours lining the coast. One of the hot newcomers for associations meeting in the Athens Riviera: the 300-room Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens, the country’s first Four Seasons hotel.
With the addition of new infrastructure both downtown and along the Riviera, Athens is blending the best of classic Greece with more contemporary attractions, helping the city and its sectors draw the attention of international associations across the globe. “At one point, people only thought of the Acropolis as the story in Athens,” Tsolakou says. “Athens is a city of never-ending stories, and it allows you to really create your own.”