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Greece: Corporate events industry capitalises on tourism boom

At the heart of three continents, Greece offers event organisers a modern metropolis as well as ancient landmarks such as the Acropolis. Fiona Keating reports.

The Greek capital has venues that include ancient historical temples, contemporary spaces, industrial landmarks, as well as five-star resorts with views of the Azure-blue Agean Sea.

“Our key industry sectors include culture, sports, IT, medical, pharmaceutical and maritime,” says Eliza Tsolakou, general manager at City of Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau (ACVB).

“Τhe digital economy in combination with a more flexible business landscape, have created a thriving startup scene,” she adds.

The buzz around Greece is due in part to a European Investment Fund, boosted by private capital, which will pump around 400 million euros into Greek startups and small businesses in the next five years. There will be 20 new hotels in 2019 with investments at the airport.

This is a different story coming out of Greece compared to 2010, when to avoid bankruptcy, Greece took on rescue loans worth €260 billion ($300 billion) that were tied to austerity measures and spending cuts. These issues are still apparent, as evinced by public sector strikes in October that caused havoc to transport links, bringing a traffic gridlock to the city centre. Athens airport services and railways were severely affected. Strikers were protesting the Conservative government’s plans for a new wave of austerity measures, with the threat of more protests coming.

Grand Hall, Lagonissi Grand Resort.

Grand Hall, Lagonissi Grand Resort.

And yet, Athens has shown its resilience in the meetings market. The latest ICCA annual report ranked the city as the 24th best convention destination in the world for 2018. “We are number 16 in Europe, and we are growing our local expertise in the meetings industry. Prices are not expensive in Athens, and we offer good value for money,” Tsolaku says.

“The city of Athens is investing in MICE with synergies and collaborations as well as private-public partnerships. Membership to ACVB is now 100 members with plans to double in size to include more DMCs and PCOs.”

Claire Amsel, executive consultant of conferences at Megaron Athens, the city’s largest conference hall says: “Business is booming. People like Athens and we have clients who come back again and again, as we offer reasonable prices. As a city it’s a lively, thriving hub with 300 days of sunshine a year.”

“People are looking for a lot of digital expertise. We have a tech team of 80 because we have a lot of live events such as opera.”

The Divani Caravel is 30 minutes’ drive from Athens International Airport and a good option for a city-centre location. It’s facilities include more than 4,000 sqm of overall meeting space as well as pillar-free ballrooms and 15 meeting rooms.

Some of the companies who have held events and meetings here include Bio-Tech, GE Health Care as well as the 2019 Speedcast Service Provider conference.

“The UK is our top market. British people have memories of travelling here as leisure tourists so Athens is very familiar to them,” Divani Collection Hotels marketing director Niki Fotiou said.

For incentive trips, the Lagonissi Grand Resort, is a 72-acre property in the Athenian Riviera with panoramic views of the Saronic Gulf. There’s water sports aplenty including jet skiing and yacht rental services. The sports facilities here include tennis courts, a mini-golf course, as well as boat trips to Greek islands as well as sunset sails around the 16 beaches of the peninsula. Watching sunsets at the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio, a fifth-century BCE temple ruin with Doric-style are sights to behold, and put you in touch with the ancient Greek past.

“The Lagonissi is on a private peninsula where guests can combine business with pleasure. The UK market has increased by 50 per cent in the last five years. We have two UK events confirmed for next year,” Ioanna Remoundou, senior sales manager at the resort says.

CASE STUDY
Estella Lopez-Placette chose Athens as the destination for this year’s conference of the Women’s International Networking (WIN), an independent global women’s leadership organisation. The Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso on the Athenian Riviera was the venue, as Lopez-Placette was seeking “something new and historical. It’s the first time we have come to Apollon and it was really to be near the sea. It gives a different energy and all the delegates are happy to be here.”

Estella Lopez Placette.

Estella Lopez Placette.

The conference needed a venue that could accommodate 250 delegates, six meeting rooms for workshops and plenary rooms.

“The service is very good here and the quality here is better than Rome. We were given a very fair price and a special rate for the rooms. The hotel staff also came up with some good food and beverage ideas.”

Estella Lopez-Placette, logistic relations and office management, Women’s International Networking Global Leadership Initiative (WIN)

 

ASK THE EXPERT
Rena Gkini, director of sales, Vista Events DMC

How many events from the UK have you worked on in 2018?
34 groups were confirmed.

 What are UK event agencies looking for?
They are always on the lookout for new ideas and authentic experiences, as money cannot buy experiences.

Rena Gkini.

Rena Gkini.

 What kind of events and in what sectors?
The events we operated in 2018 span from incentives to conferences to large congresses. We had clients from beauty and cosmetics companies, to IT, media, banking and automotive.

 Why is Athens a trending location?
Athens has been out of the radar for a few years due to the political and financial turmoil of the country. For last two years there has been a significant investment in tourism, with many new hotel and venue openings along with the refurbishment of existing properties making Athens a revived destination. At the same time, it remains a value-for-money proposition.

BUYER’S EYE
Antony Waite, managing director, Conference Contacts

How long did you have to prepare for the brief?
Our event was conceived in principal ten months prior to delivery. The scope of work evolved over the course of that period.

What was the purpose of the event?
The event was targeted at our client’s key customers to give them unique insights on current industry issues and outline strategic directions related to the networking industry and IP technology.

What were the specific requirements for the event?
The client required extensive meeting space for plenary sessions, production demonstrations, multiple breakouts running in parallel, workshops, seminars, customer meetings and catering.

How many people attended?
The event audience was close to 800 attendees, attending from over 130 companies spanning more than 50 countries.

Why did you choose Athens for your event?
Athens provided a practical, accessible and cost effective solution to the client brief.

 Was this a successful event and why?
Our client benefitted from record attendance levels and universally positive customer feedback. The properties utilised and networking programme promoted Athens and was exceptionally well received.

 Why is Athens a good option for event planners?
Athens presents cost effective solutions for groups. Hotel choice and service is improving and there are strong DMCs. Hotels and DMCs are collaborative in their approach to winning and delivering business.

 Did you organise the food and drink – who did you use? If not, did the venue assist with this?
We partnered with the award-winning Vista Events to deliver the food and beverage aspect of our networking events.

 How did you work with the budget with the client – did you propose a fee – and then negotiate with the client?
Conference Contacts controlled and managed the overall event budget. We work on a fee basis.

What were the challenges with this event?
Managing client expectation in line with overall budget was a challenge. Negotiation with third-party suppliers was key. The technical and physical aspects of the product demonstration and associated equipment was also challenging.

Was AV and IT important for the event – did you need any specific requirements for this?
AV and IT solutions were integral to the event. Significant network infrastructure was necessary to fulfill the demonstration requirements as well as seamlessly service an uninterrupted internet connection for 750+ delegates with multiple devices.