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The Mayor of Athens sees positive future for Athens` tourism

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis and Attica Region Secretary General Haralambos Maniatis presented…

Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis and Attica Region Secretary General Haralambos Maniatis presented  the results of surveys concerning the promotion of Athens and Attica tourism, during a press conference at City Hall.

The Mayor’s address follows below: “Today we can look to the future of Athens tourism with optimism. The survey results we are presenting point to a new outlook on tourism at both a regional and local government level.

I would like to commend Attica Region Secretary General Haralambos Maniatis on the efforts made by the authority thus far to promote Attica tourism.

Eighteen months after the successful staging of the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the Greek capital is widely considered a quality destination with competitive advantages. This state of affairs did not simply happen. It required a great deal of work, the creation of major infrastructure and the active participation of all of us.

The wide-scale international promotion of the city generated by the Olympics combined with the marketing campaigns of the Tourism Ministry, the Greek National Tourism Organisation, Attica Prefecture and the City of Athens resulted in a 9 percent increase in Athens tourist arrivals this year.

This proves we are heading in the right direction and encourages us to aim for better results. The survey results speak for themselves.

Athens and Attica are considered safe destinations, while culture and the friendly manner of Athenians rank among the most positive elements of our tourism product.

However, this does not mean we intend to rest on our laurels, as the results also point out negative factors. These negative factors relate to long-term problems that have arisen from the lack of a strategic plan over the past 20 years.

The City of Athens has taken decisive steps to change the situation. A well-planned investment and development programme has been implemented over the past three years. Today, the citizens of Athens and our visitors are reaping the benefits.

Taking into account an urgent need to upgrade Athens’ profile as a tourist destination, the municipality, in collaboration with key tourism industry representatives, established the Athens Tourism and Economic Development Agency.

The organization has drafted a two-year strategic plan of action for the promotion and development of Athens as a tourist destination. The plan comprises initiatives that are to be implemented in the medium- to long-term. Special emphasis has been given to the provision of quality tourist services, the creation of basic tourism infrastructure as well as promotional programmes aimed at potential visitors.

Many of the initiatives have already been implemented and we hope by mid-2006 to have made significant strides.

The City of Athens and the Attica Region realized the importance of capitalizing on the positive image resulting from the Games via a joint tourism promotion programme.

Within the framework of this cooperation, the two authorities planned a series of joint initiatives that form part of the current Regional Development Programme. These initiatives are aimed at identifying the opinions and needs of the tourism market, further boosting Athens’ positive image as well as strengthening the tourism product with specialized services and high-quality advertising.

Today, I have the pleasure to announce the results of two major surveys undertaken by the company Leo Burnett. The first survey focused on identifying Athens’ visitors and evaluating the tourism product based on their experiences. The second survey targeted potential visitors to Athens (and 49 other cities) and was conducted in the UK, a traditional source of tourists for our country.

The results will contribute to the planning of effective tourism promotion policies aimed at meeting the needs and desires of visitors.

It is worth noting that this is the first time such a large-scale study has been carried out in Greece. Such surveys must be conducted annually in order to enable comparison of data.

We envision sustainable, balanced tourism development that will boost the local economy, create jobs, prove friendly to the environment, improve the image of Athens and satisfy the needs of visitors.”

Mayor Bakoyannis answered the following questions by journalists:

JOURNALIST: Why haven’t we focused on the negative aspects of Athens and its tourism product. At some point you said that 90% come to Greece for the history and culture, and 2% go to the museums. Isn’t this a contradiction?

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: Absolutely not. To identify the National Museum alone with culture is wrong. It is a notion that does not apply. Culture is everything. Culture is the urban environment. Culture is the flowers in the city. Culture is taking a stroll through Plaka. Culture is music in the streets, a visit to a taverna. Everything is culture. And in the eyes of the people visiting Athens, each has his own notion of what culture is, irrelevant of whether we Greeks have traditionally learnt to think of culture solely as a visit to a museum. This notion does not apply.

JOURNALIST: But we say that visitors come for Greece’s history and culture.

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: When 78% visits the Acropolis, they won’t say they also visited the Unified Archaeological Sites. Because for these people, the Acropolis and the unified sites are a single area. They say, ‘oh, I went to the Acropolis’. Research conducted during the Olympic Games found that visitors to Athens – when they went to one of the Unified sites, and during that time we had all the cultural events taking place, exhibitions etc, – when asked where they went, they would say to the Acropolis.

JOURNALIST: You mention the findings of ÉÔÅP. The ITEP findings, however, did not include the best September Athens has seen, which was a result of two large conferences taking place and attracting many people to the city. The hoteliers could not believe it. And also the fact that there is overbooking for the Eurovision Song Contest, which will take place in Athens come spring. That’s what I want to ask. Unfortunately or fortunately, the metropolitan conference centre is stuck in a maze of Olympic properties, ministries, the Greek Tourism Organisation etc. I’d like to know whether the City is willing to take on the initiative and push it forward?

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: A conference centre is a priority for the City. We will definitely push for it to the extent that we can affect such decisions. In the last three years, the City of Athens has implemented a new policy. Firstly, we place conferences under our auspices, and we offer hospitality – something that until now was traditionally done by two major European cities, Paris and Rome. This is a motive for conference organisers, and I must say that I was impressed during the two last years, the conferences that I as Mayor invited, the response was great. Not massive, but at the largest conference, the medical conference, the City was present and offered its hospitality. But even the smaller conferences that take place give the city a breath of fresh air.

Research points to 5%, perhaps in other months this figure may be larger. But as you say, let’s hope that September is better than 9% and that the findings show 10%. What matters is that the 9% figure is a large figure. Let me just add that it would be a grave mistake to consider the findings of this research enough to rest on. This research has identified a positive pattern. Yes, Athens is a friendly city, a warm city, we have hospitable people, we have a nice environment, an important presence, from there on it is important for us to realise that value for money makes the difference. That it’s not possible for a cup of coffee to cost 3.50 or 4.00 euros in Athens, and in the centre of Rome to cost 1.50 euros. I’ve said this many times. In any case, coffee is coffee, and we must understand that that’s what people remember when they come to visit Athens. And the defamation we get from such services is greater than what we think.

JOURNALIST: I’ve noticed an information gap concerning the promotion of Greece. It seems that 40% of those visiting Athens come here because they have good “recommendations”.

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: There is no stronger weapon that good references. A good word goes a long way in communication, and especially in tourism. You might see a huge advertising campaign or read many articles in magazines, but when your best friend or your brother tells you that ‘I went there and it was fantastic,’ you’re bound to trust their opinion more. And that’s what I believe is Athens’ greatest strength right now. And we must not underestimate it.

JOURNALIST: Mrs Bakoyannis, you were named World Mayor for 2005. You were obviously expecting this. Is this tempting enough to keep you at City Hall?

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: I have to admit I wasn’t expecting it. Competition was tough. Mayors from larger cities were in the same list. It is an honour and an international distinction not only for myself, but also for the City Council and the municipal authority as a whole, which has worked hard these past three years. And I would like to thank them because together with the Athenians, who were very hospitable – as the research findings indicate – created this new image of the city. Now, whether this distinction will make me stay? I’ll use the English expression: ‘we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’.

JOURNALIST: I’d like to ask whether the City of Athens plans to be part of the Athens tourism product during the Eurovision Song Contest in spring, and if so, what are your plans?

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: For us, all events taking place in Athens are very important. We enjoy a fine working relationship with public broadcaster ERT. As you are aware, the City of Athens will be offering the hospitality, will be hosting the first big Eurovision event in collaboration with ÅRÔ, and I truly believe that all those who come to Athens – and this interests us greatly – will enjoy themselves.

JOURNALIST: How does the City plan to utilise these research findings?

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: As far as the City of Athens is concerned, we’ve discovered something very important in this research concerning our way of communication: it is vital that we focus on promoting the contemporary cultural scene of Athens. Undoubtedly, we have the Acropolis, the sea and the sun, but spending money [on the promotion of these products] is redundant. It is more important at this time to focus our efforts on Athens’ contemporary cultural scene, on the infrastructure, on the alternative ways of having fun in our city. And let me say, that we had aimed for a five-day stay in Athens. I hope that by next year, we will have achieved this goal. This year, it came to four days, hopefully next year we will have five.

JOURNALIST: Athens is a destination with a specific tourist product, which indeed cannot attract visitors for more than three-four days. How do you believe we have to enrich this product so that Athens can truly become an attractive tourist destination and reach the week-long stay? Past research conducted by the Hoteleiers Union had found that conferences and conference tourism was a strong advantage. In addition to this, some venues, unused space in Attica belonging to the Tourism Development Co., could become attraction points in themselves. What are your priorities on this?

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: Allow me to disagree with the ‘indeed Athens cannot attract visitors for more than three-four days’. One glance at our tourist guide, released in several languages last year, is enough to prove you wrong. The guide suggests seven routes through Athens. A simple read through this guide and you will realise that three to four days or even five are not enough. Furthermore, we are participating in all the relevant programmes for the promotion of the city’s cultural identity, tourism infrastructure, things that we consider important. I’d just like to remind you that apart from Barcelona, there is no other city in Europe whose two-star hotels are at Olympic standards. Athens is the only city that has achieved this. We’ve also entered the ‘Shopping in Athens’ programme that is of great interest and has helped promote Athens’ market and services by offering information on what to buy in this modern European city. At the same time, we aim at conference tourism, religious tourism and specialised groups.

JOURNALIST: Olympic cities seem to have developed conference tourism more than anything else. I’d like to ask whether the City has a specific person or group involved in this area, preparing material for the promotion of conference tourism and conferences in general. From my experience in Madrid, where the City of Madrid presented us with this material… How to meet the needs of this sector. And because your are a very influential figure, I believe that if you were interested in this sector, you could really help the Conference Centre move forward, something we all believe is a must if we want to develop this sector.

MAYOR BAKOYANNIS: The Athens Tourism and Development Agency deals with this in collaboration with the Athens Convention Visitors Bureau, so that all our efforts and know-how jointly focus on this goal. That is why when asked to make a presentation, offer hospitality or host, not only within the City of Athens but for the whole of Attica, we do so because we believe this contributes to attracting as many conferences as possible. It is not within our power to create a Conference Centre. If I could, I would have done so already.