The amount of business done during Philoxenia, Greece’s major tourism fair held last month in Thessaloniki, surprised most exhibitors this year. Another surprise was the traffic. Although it wasn’t evident, Helexpo, the fair’s organizer, said Philoxenia attracted 23,790 visitors, 48 percent more than in 2004. And the event hosted 696 exhibitors from 20 countries plus 15 official national participations, compared with 10 the year before.
Side events during the fair also showed a bit of an improvement over last year. The National Tourism Council meet under the chairmanship of Tourism Development Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, and thus helped underscore the significance of the Philoxenia, and its contribution to promoting the Greek tourism product.
The Thessaloniki Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers held an international event on conference tourism as an alternative form of tourism, the development of which is one of the country’s tourism policy objectives as it supports the extension of the tourism season to the whole year.
During the event, under the title “Conference Tourism: The Big Challenge,” delegates heard wise words from speakers from the United States and Great Britain who tackled the modern conference market (the size of the market in Greece and internationally, infrastructure needs), convention and visitors bureaus and conference tourism (their role and the benefits of conferences for a city), and what makes a conference center to stand out (modern technologies, state or private investments).
Political and economical speeches were also numerous during the fair. According to the tourism minister, the Greek tourism sector will manage a leap forward in 2006 with the promotion of several ambitious plans that will set the stage for it to account for about a quarter of the country’s income in 10 years’ time.
“If the targets set are attained and the new standards and specifications are observed, we foresee that the tourism business will be 30-35 percent larger by 2015, and revenues will represent about 25 percent of gross domestic product, against 18 percent today,” said Mr. Avramopoulos during a press briefing.
He said plans include new charter terminals at the military airports of Andravida and Anghialos in the western Peloponnese, and the development of the country’s numerous spa facilities, on the basis of legislation that will “settle many outstanding issues.”
The minister added that six or seven large foreign investment schemes are making progress while others, long blocked, will follow. “Foreign investors in the tourism sector will soon find a very friendly environment in Greece, while the law on public/private investment partnerships will open up new prospects,” he said.
At a separate press briefing, the Hellenic Association of Tourist and Travel Agents said the application of the European Commission’s directive for a single market in services would be catastrophic for Greece, as it would allow companies to choose as a base any member state that offered tax advantages and transfer staff from it to the others where it may maintain branches.
Regarding calls for amending the directive on organized tours, the association’s president, Yiannis Evangelou, said European consumers want greater protection during their travels but that this would mean higher prices.
Helexpo President Aristotelis Thomopoulos, during yet another press briefing, said that apart from the existing exhibition center in Maroussi, the company plans to create a second major exhibition center and to license the use of the conference center at the Olympic “tae kwon do” venue in Faliron, all of which “will help to realize the plan toward making Greece’s state exhibition and conference organizer more dynamic.”
Already the company’s management is looking for the right site for the needs of a big conference center of international standards in the broader Athens region to satisfy the demands of professional bodies in the capital, he said.
Press reports say that Helexpo may also show interest in the plot adjacent to its conference center in Maroussi, owned by the Olympic Stadium.
Separately, Thessaloniki conference bureau TVCB officials said that a group of local businessmen, in collaboration with the city’s municipal authority, have managed to increase the number of conferences organized in the city from 39 in 2001 to 115 last year.