Athens Mayor Dora Bakoyannis last month submitted a proposal before City Council to establish a tourism development agency, in cooperation with the private sector, as part of efforts to raise the Greek capital’s profile as a year-round tourist destination.
The non-profit Athens Tourism and Economic Development Agency will comprise the City of Athens, the Athens Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Hellenic Hoteliers Chamber, the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises, the Hellenic Association of Tourist and Travel Agencies, and the Hellenic Retailers Association.
The municipality considers support and promotion of Athens’ tourism industry vital as the sector has the potential to stimulate the city’s wider economic development.
At the City Council meeting, Mayor Bakoyannis presented the plans that account for the state of tourism in Athens, the policies and achievements of other European cities and Olympic host cities, as well as international tourism trends.
The agency, which is in its formative stages, will act as a platform of cooperation between all relevant agencies and organizations in the Attica region, whose aims will be jointly promoted.
Of a total 350,000 euros in start-up capital, the municipality has contributed 300,000 euros with each of the five cooperating associations contributing 10,000 euros. The agency’s mission is to present Athens as an attractive year-round tourist destination. It has three strategic aims, according to the mayor. These are to combine the strengths of the private sector with the backing of the municipality; to differentiate the Athens’ tourism product and boost its competitiveness; and to encourage sustainable tourism development.
“Athens’ tourism industry has remained static for a long period of time. This is impacting negatively on the city’s economy, considering the important role tourism plays in business development and the competitiveness of the economy,” Mayor Bakoyannis told the City Council.
“The Olympic Games brought Athens to the forefront of international attention, offering the city a unique promotional opportunity and the potential to boost development. The city’s new infrastructure and its successful hosting of the Games conveyed to the world the impression that Athens is a capital of world-class standards. Now that Athens is equipped with modern facilities and services, there is great scope for development in the post-Olympic period.
“We believe that these prospects could become reality through the planning and implementation of a development policy focused on supporting and promoting the city’s tourism sector.”
More specifically, she said that business travel represents a crucial share of tourism demand yet is characterized by a very low average number of overnight stays. Furthermore, she said that the number of tourist arrivals in Athens and the greater region has remained static over the past 20 years when compared with the rest of Greece.
“This means that Athens is no longer viewed as an attractive tourist destination and the business traveler has no incentive to prolong his stay here,” she said.
The mayor went on to explain that the local tourism industry’s poor performance can be attributed in large part to the fact that no authority exists to publicize Athens’ tourist attractions and develop a city brand, while other European cities understand the importance of city branding as a tourism development tool – as part of a national, country-branding effort – that is funded via city tourism development associations.
Mayor Bakoyannis explained that these organizations have combined their efforts and have created a European network of cooperation under the name European Cities Tourism.
The network’s aim is to raise the competitiveness of these cities as tourist destinations. Athens’ relative inactivity is affecting the competitiveness of its tourism product, which is deficient in numerous, significant areas.
With the above in mind, she said, the City of Athens, via the municipality’s Development Agency, has formulated a master plan, incorporating a comprehensive business plan, for the creation of the tourism and economic development organization. “Furthermore, the municipality expects to join the European Cities Tourism network in the near future.”