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Athens: a city of contrasts

acropolis

The Parthenon has stood atop the Acropolis of Athens for nearly 2,500 years, and is arguably a big draw for visitors to the Greek capital. Despite this prime attraction, the city of Athens has had a few bumpy years of late when it comes to tourism, with political turbulence having had a severe impact on the numbers of business and leisure visitors, and many C&I groups opting to head elsewhere.

Perceptions are slowly starting to change, however, and for the better, if this year’s Travel Trade Athens event is anything to go by. The city of Athens annual travel trade workshop, held for the third year running, took place on 26 and 27 April at the Megaron Athens International Conference Centre and welcomed its largest group of attendees to date, with several returning from the previous year but with many more first-time registrants making up the numbers. The Mayor of Athens, Yorgos Kaminis, estimated that around 3,000 business meetings would take place between buyers and suppliers. This year there were 88 buyers in attendance from 26 countries, with 22 of these C&I specialists and 190 suppliers. According to Kaminis, buyer numbers have increased by 20% since the first show was held in 2013.

At the show, Kaminis said that he felt very optimistic in promoting Athens as a destination for conferences. He said the country has been able to reverse negative sentiment, with tourism levels starting to stabilise in late 2013, and an increase in arrivals to the destination recorded in 2014. For its part, Athens Convention and Visitors’ Bureau is putting together a tourist package with the aim of promoting the city as one of the most popular city breaks in the world.

On the C&I front, one of the most hotly-anticipated openings (to be fair, there have not been that many in recent years but this is expected to change) will be that of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, an oasis of calm (once construction is complete) in the south of the city that will provide plenty of open space, a new home for the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece, as well as meeting space for events. It is expected to open in spring 2016 and a visit to the site appeared to show construction plans on track.

There was plenty of networking to be had at the event – with buyers offered a choice of fam trips including a visit to the city’s cultural highlights, with a stop at the Acropolis and the Acropolis Museum and visits to the islands of Hydra, Poros and Aegina. Site inspections for C&I buyers were carried out at a number of venues, including the Metropolitan Expo near Athens International Airport, the Vorres Museum, Divani Apollon Palace & Spa Hotel and Astir Palace Resort, both located in Vouliagmeni by the coast.