CMW international reporter Oliver Thomas explores how Athens is much more than just a tourist hotspot for ancient history enthusiasts.
There is a myth among visitors, delegates and international event organisers that Athens’ appeal is rooted solely in its ancient culture and its immaculately preserved ruins. Undoubtedly, ancient Greece is an essential USP for Athens, and is utilised to great effect, but is often misinterpreted as its only strength.
During the 8th Travel Trade Athens event, 9-10 May, CMW was presented with the Greek capital’s MICE infrastructure and a clear strategy that exposed the one-dimensional hypothesis of this myth.
To improve the life of Athenian citizens is to improve the experience and attraction of Athens to international visitors. This is the vision seen throughout Athens’ domestic MICE industry and governmental institutions (City of Athens and This is Athens).
“We need to try and understand and consider our city from a holistic view,” comments Kostas Bakoyannis, the mayor of Athens. “We need to view our city as a whole. When we invest in the quality of life, we invest in Athens as a city for visitors.”
In the ICCA Annual 2021 Report, Athens was ranked the 6th MICE city in Europe and 8th in the world, demonstrating the vision and strategy of this Mediterranean city already coming to fruition.
The city of symposiums
Vagelis Vlachos, CEO of Athens Development & Destination Management Agency, tells CMW: “We believe that a great city to live is a great city to visit,” echoing the holistic thoughts of mayor Bakoyannis.
This coherent strategy throughout the city’s institutions is the backbone of the destination’s MICE appeal. By facilitating a city that local residents can enjoy, you have a destination which is equally as attractive to international visitors.
Through this focus on local communities, supporting sustainable practices of Athenian suppliers and international event organisers is a fundamental part of this overall strategy.
Vlachos comments: “The City of Athens has a comprehensive climate action plan that emphasises the maintenance of public spaces as well as strategies promoting neighbourhood stability and growth.”
Environmentally, investment was made during the pandemic to renovate public spaces into urban lungs (Lycabettus Hill and the National Garden). The climate plan includes supporting investment in smart infrastructure while training tourism stakeholders to incorporate sustainability into their business plans.
The role of MICE for the economic sustainability of Athens is also seen as critically important to improving the city’s quality of experience for locals and visitors.
The footprint of a common events delegate is four times greater than a typical leisure visitor to Athens. Thus, is highlighted the economic value of attracting events to the region for the local economy.
Not only do MICE delegates spend more, they visit all year around. The City of Athens’ is strategising to flatten the peak of visitors to beyond the sunny, Mediterranean appeal of the summer.
Vlachos believes: “The meetings industry is crucial to this strategy because it is a market leader helping to build an all-year visitor economy for Athens.”
By attracting international events throughout the year, Athens can ensure that a more prolonged and sustained period of visitors is fuelling the regional economy.
Athens is looking to leverage both its ancient historical identity and modern academic and research qualities, to create a unique MICE proposition for event organisers.
While understanding the value of Athens’ ancient history in attracting visitors, MICE stakeholders in the Greek capital know that it must equally project its image as a modern, thriving city that offers organisers expertise and knowledge infrastructure for their events.
“It is a mix of classical and cutting edge,” says Vlachos. “Four millennia of recorded history form the backdrop of Athens’ vibrant contemporary life.”
Athens is a hub of academics, researchers and businesses that provide organisers and delegates ample value to improving event experiences. Specific expertise in the following fields makes Athens particularly attractive for event organisers in these sectors:
- Mobility, logistics and shipping
- Agri-food and nutrition
- Blue economy and circular economy
- Health, health tourism and pharma
- Culture and heritage.
Alongside a clear vision to attract MICE to Athens, the city also has a solid foundation of event spaces and visitor infrastructure to facilitate international events.
During the Travel Trade Athens event, CMW visited numerous event venues throughout the city. The Athens Concert Hall and International Convention Centre (2,000sqm of exhibition space, three conference rooms, and 2,450 seats venue-wide), Panathenaic Stadium (60,000-seater historic open-air venue that hosted the first modern-day Olympics), and the Zappeion Megaron (4,000sqm flexible meetings space). They are all in walking distance of each other, located centrally around the ancient ruins of the Acropolis.
Of particular interest is the LAMDA development project, Ellinikon, a new suburb of Athens that will cover 2,000,000sqm, constructed at the site of the old international airport. This project is expected to contribute 2.4% to the country’s GDP until the development’s completion date, providing many exciting opportunities for the city’s MICE industry.
“It will create an ultra-modern network of offices, homes, visitor spaces, and an urban park larger than all of Monaco,” comments Vlachos. “It will attract an estimated 1m new visitors to the region and add to our roster of world-class meetings facilities that are only a short distance from the Acropolis.”
Additionally, this new project will be at the heart of the city’s sustainability plan, being the largest of the region’s urban lungs. The suburb aims to be ‘one of the largest coastal parks in the world – and an ambitious rival to the great urban parks of New York and London.’
Athens is a city with a clear strategy and a developing infrastructure for international events. The MICE Athenian myth is starting to unravel, it’s time for event organisers to take note.