Current Affairs

‘This Is Athens’ Redefines the City

26th May 2021

With 5000 years of history on its back, Athens has always managed to preserve its unique traditions and keep up with developments in all fields. In particular, when it comes to associations and their conferencing, the capital of Greece has been building over the last few years on its already solid basis to create a more innovative, sustainable and progressive destination. Boardroom spoke with Vangelis Vlachos, CEO of the Athens Development & Destination Management Agency, about the city’s current and future projects in the post-pandemic era.

Words Vicky Koffa

We understand Athens is a city on the rise when it comes to sustainability. What changes and developments are there in place and what sort of projects does the future include on this matter?

Despite the challenges of the last year, it’s an exciting time for Athens because we are bringing real world solutions to life after many years of planning. The City of Athens has made an important choice to think about economic development and tourism promotion as something that starts from small neighbourhoods and needs to benefit all parts of the city. Sustainability is a key aspect of our tourism strategy because it supports quality of life and accessibility for every neighbourhood. 

So, what is being done? The first three pocket parks opened in the last year, and more will be opening soon, creating a green network across the city and adding fresh open spaces to our dense urban fabric. The municipality is renovating public spaces and dozens of water fountains, using new cooling materials that will help lower the temperature in the hot summer months. The National Gardens are being revitalized, and the slopes of Lycabettus Hill are being restored using nature-based solutions. The lookout from the top is extremely popular with residents and visitors because of the incredible views of the city and the sea. As the city’s destination management organization, we’re involved with helping hotels and venues to incorporate sustainability goals into their development plans so that they can offer responsible tourism to their guests. 

Which are Athens’ strong knowledge sectors? Are there any plans from the city to attract specific association conferences linked to those sectors?

The City of Athens recruits acclaimed scientists from each of our major areas of investment and growth to help promote Athens and attract specialist conferences. They are international knowledge influencers and leaders who assist with hosting major events, while also helping the city to gain long-term advantages after the events are over. Our international network keeps growing; for instance, the city has helped build a thriving start-up scene that is having a big impact locally while becoming more competitive globally, rising in the rankings 9 slots in 2020. 

There are at least four historically significant clusters of industry and research activity. First, our logistics and shipping industry is important to Athens because local companies own and manage one of the largest shipping fleets in the world. The Aegean Sea is wrapped around the city on three sides, so our “Blue Economy” is extremely important to Athens. 

Second, we have major commitments in agri-business and a very special terroir, as the French would say, that can be tasted in many new products, like fine wines. 

Third, there are important clusters in health and pharmaceuticals, as well as major research laboratories within local universities working at the cutting edge of neurosciences and other new fields. 

Fourth, the cultural sector is extremely important for Athens, from our booming art and design scene with many locally based individual artisans, to our tourism sector and international creative industries. 

How has ‘This is Athens’ dealt with the recent crisis? How can Athens compete in the world scene technologically when it comes to organizing hybrid conferences?

No doubt, 2020 was a challenging year, especially for professionals working on meetings and conferences. We will continue to face challenges, but we should also keep innovating. Now, more than ever, we need to transform the way we deliver value to the meetings industries in order to be ready for the new reality. Remote work will be the norm for the next few years, and hybrid conferences are likely here to stay. 

I am really proud of how far we have come in a short time, and I think our recent investments in technology and skills will pay off. For instance, the City of Athens shifted the annual Travel Trade event to a virtual environment for 2021, which actually helped to extend our reach to new markets and allowed us to include more participants. Our members have built an extensive portfolio of virtual events and tours, and they are now able to provide customized virtual site inspections of the city and its conference infrastructure. At the end of the day, these experiences have brought us together in new and exciting ways. We have cultivated a shared spirit and we have demonstrated our resilience.

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