Alexis Galinos is a development economist. He has been an advisor to the Municipality of Athens in economic development matters since 2003. He has led the establishment of a municipal agency whose objective is the management and implementation of tourism and economic development in Athens, and he served as the organization’s first Director-General from 2005 to 2007.
He holds a Master’s Degree in Public Administration from Harvard University, an MSc in European Social Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science and a BA in Economics from Bates College.
Q: How is Athens’ MICE scene changing?
Athens has succeeded in making remarkable progress in attaining a higher quality of services and infrastructure especially in terms of urban development, safety and security and sustainable mobility. The City thrives again as a safe and attractive business travel and meetings destination and during the past years, has hosted many of the biggest and most demanding world-class events and all kinds of conventions, conferences, and corporate meetings, as well.
Athens offers great value for money, there are new hotels and new venues opening and a number of international events are taking place.
Q: What is new in the Athens venue offer?
Athens is also a city where large projects are being completed or are underway, such as the opening of the Contemporary Art Museum, the new National Library, Culture Center and Opera House by the seaside, the Ellinikon development, to name but a few. Meanwhile, new hotels are opening, most of them with new meeting space and facilities and new entries are added constantly in the gastronomy and culture scene.
The Ellinikon development, in particular, is a “mega project”, a “landmark destination” project. One of the largest land development projects, ever, not only for Greece but in European scale. When completed, it will change the City’s seafront in a spectacular way.
It includes plans for a dedicated Conference Centre, which will be combined and supported with several Hotels and residence facilities.
Q: What are the sectors that are likely to bring future congresses to Athens?
As I said before, Athens has hosted successfully all kinds and sizes of events, conferences and meetings. From huge-scale events, like the Olympic Games and really large conferences and corporate events with thousands of participants to smaller in size but highly demanding events like the TBEX 2014. Sciences, Medical, Tech & IT, Academic, Arts and Culture, Sports, I can’t really think of a sector, an Association or a corporation, that could skip Athens as a destination for their events.
Q: Which countries bring in the most MICE business?
Most business comes from major European source markets, like Germany, France, BENELUX and the UK. Athens is also a very popular meetings destination from North America. Recently, we have been experiencing a growing trend in interest from East Asian countries and India, mostly in corporate meetings, though.
Q: Does the city offer subventions and what is your personal opinion about subventions?
Subventions can be a tricky issue, although everyone in the MICE market can understand its importance. Since such a kind of resources are limited – Greece is still in a harsh economic and financial environment – we follow a per case policy, subject to several criteria. We also try to offer solutions based on close cooperation with all of the City’s main stakeholders, the private sector and the central government institutions. By creating synergies and planning combined actions, we are maximizing results and boost the result of our joint efforts to make Athens more attractive in terms of costs and ROI, for organizers.
Q: Which destinations are your main competitors and why?
Being among the top 25 conference city destinations worldwide and the top 20 in Europe (according to ICCA) Athens is positioned within a very competitive “neighborhood”.While trying to reach higher, Athens competes with more popular destinations, while at the same time, it feels the competition from new and rising destinations. The best way to deal with this is to pursue our goals and expectations, learning from the best practices or mistakes of the other destinations in order to strengthen our unique selling points and advantages.
Q: How are Athens positioned as a meeting destination today and what are its positive attributes that are often overlooked?
The City of Athens, the Athens Development & Destination Management Agency, and the Athens Convention & Visitor Bureau have been implementing a long-term strategic plan for Tourism development, growth and promotion. In close cooperation with the private sector, we are intensifying our efforts towards placing Athens higher in the international tourism and meetings market map and achieving sustainable growth that will benefit all Athenians and enhance our visitors’ experiences.
Our efforts have resulted in Athens climbing 23 places in the International Conference & Congress Association’s global ranking for 2015- 2014, to the 24th place from 47th in 2013.This was one of the best city destination performances throughout the international meetings market. We have strong indications that this up- going trend continues.
In addition to the high-end convention, exhibition and meetings facilities, Athens offers excellent hotels of all categories, a fascinating entertainment scene, and a state-of-the-art transportation network. It’s a city endowed with year-round sunshine, the European capital city with the most blue flag beaches, a booming gastronomic scene, and warm, hospitable people.
Q: So what is the future of MICE in Athens?
Bright and prosperous, I hope! The City of Athens is consistently committed to enhancing the City’s MICE product by devising and implementing an integrated destination marketing, management and development strategy.
We offer a range of products, services and tools that promote and define Athens as the city to visit for meetings and conferences. After systematic attempts and targeted initiatives, we strongly believe that we have succeeded in building a dynamic, safe and hospitable Athens for business & leisure tourists.
Q: What do you love about Athens?
Well, my Athens is a synthesis of never ending stories.
I love the unspoiled corners of this city; I still keep stumbling upon unknown spots, in my own town. We all love the Acropolis of course; the crown jewel of Athens but the city really is not antiquated. In recent years there has been an explosion of exciting developments, from a buzzing art scene to stylish design hotels and unique bars and restaurants. Athens is a melting pot of its glorious past and vibrant present. New places, new spaces, new ideas keep sprawling and the city is constantly changing. Despite the financial mire, the city has shown resilience and a fantastic ability to regenerate and to project a confident image.
Athens has a unique authenticity, meaning that it is a City that is open, friendly, very easy to move around and to explore and experience.
Q: What is your favorite place in Athens?
It is hard to tell. Athens has so much to offer, day or night, all year round. But if I had to make a single choice I would say the historic center, the “heart” of the city.
My favourite spot personally is the neighborhood of Ano Petralona, and the area around Philopapou Hill, a glorious elevation with great views of the Acropolis and the city all the way to the sea. It’s a nice walk up the hill and you get rewarded with a unique vantage point, reminiscent of the unique civilization heritage of the city. You get to stumble on the literal bedrock of Western democracy, the Pnyx which was the meeting place of the Athenian democratic assembly and then you walk down and lose yourself into the nice bars and restaurants. A perfect example of the old and new coming together, encapsulating the essence of Athens.
Q: Not to miss in 2017?
2017 is a significant year for Athens. Our city is under the spotlight of the global art scene, due to co-hosting documenta 14, the renowned contemporary art event, which, for the first time, is taking place outside Kassel, Germany.
Moreover, in 2017 the city celebrated the unveiling of the National Museum of Contemporary Art in a repurposed old factory building. And we have another addition, to the flourishing local art and culture scene, the impressive Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, which among others, is the new, state-of-the-art home for the Greek National Opera and the National Library of Greece, with a two-million-books capacity.
Our city has also been named UNESCO World Book Capital for 2018. So you will get to read up on us a lot in the coming years.
Q: Your best incentive idea in Athens?
Athens offers a wide range of enchanting experiences, which are not easy to find in another metropolis. Athens’ landform is unique; with mountains, hills and the Athenian Riviera seacoast really close by. You can go sailing, cycling, trekking or savour the wines produced in wineries nearby.
Actually, Athens is the only European capital where vineyards and wineries lie within a stone’s throw of the city centre. There are more than 30 ultra-modern wine estates in Attica –the area around Athens- with quality viticulture and skilled oenologists which offer wine tours, wine tasting and many related activities that will make people aware of the superior quality varieties and history of the Attica region.
A complete experience could start with a tour in the vineyards, where the grapes are cultivated, continue to the wineries and the underground cellars, and would perfectly end with a wine-tasting session of the estate’s finest wines.