Interview with Despina Amarantidou, ARTION Conferences & Events
Greece will establish its prominent position in the international gastronomic scene and introduce its cuisine, culture and traditions, as, in less than four years, Athens will be the first European city of the Mediterranean to host the World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Congress.
By Nikos Krinis, GTP news editor
Following months of hard work that led to a dynamic showing at this year’s World Association of Chefs Societies (WACS) Congress in Korea, the Greek delegation won the bid to host the 37th WACS Congress in May 2016 in Athens. The other two contestants bidding against Athens were Istanbul and Johannesburg.
“At our venue in Korea we made our presence apparent in the best possible way… We highlighted the beauty of the country that never ceases to be one of the most attractive tourism destinations,” Despina Amarantidou, president and communication manager of ARTION Conferences & Events, told GTP.
ARTION prepared the 37th WACS Congress bid portfolio, which was submitted by the Hellenic Chef’s Federation on behalf of Greece.
“We want to organize a traditional high-level congress in the most historical city of Europe, Athens, in Hellenic colors and flavors,” the federation’s president, Miltos Karoubas, had said prior to the presentation.
According to Ms. Amarantidou, Mr. Karoubas’ contribution to the bid was essential to the final result.
The Athenaum Intercontinental, which is the selected host venue of the 37th WACS Congress, is expected to welcome some 2,000 delegates.
Ms. Amarantidou explained, when bidding for an international conference, success factors include good organization, consistency, transparency and the development of the national bidding committee’s network under fair competition.
Once a Professional Conference Organizer (PCO) is selected, the next step is to form a national bidding committee to represent the country. The expression of interest is then submitted and the availability of conference facilities and potential supporters are prepared and the bidding portfolio is drafted.
Ms. Amarantidou underlined that the successful outcome of the bid was framed by the practical support of the Athens Convention Bureau (ACB) and the financial contribution of the City of Athens.
“ACB is expanding rapidly and I believe that any disadvantages it may have in relation to overseas offices will cease to exist very soon if it receives the necessary support from businesses in Athens,” she said.
One of the major challenges ARTION faced while preparing for the WACS congress bid was to find sponsors for its presence in Korea.
However, besides the active support of the City of Athens and ACB, Ms. Amarantidou said other government agencies and professionals seemed not to realize the benefits of hosting the 37th WACS Congress in Athens.
Benefits to the host city
Firstly, it raises the prestige of the country’s bidding committee, which undertakes the organization of the event, to the international community.
Secondly, the host destination -Athens, in this case- will be advertised to every corner of the world. This will work surely to the advantage of the city’s tourism sector and food business market.
The Greek capital will also see tourism growth, as delegates usually tend to extend their stay at the host destination before and/or after the congress.
“In the long term, the country will see an increase of international conferences and tourism growth in the destination and wider area as well,” Ms. Amarantidou added.
Government involvement in conference tourism
For years, conference professionals have argued that the Greek Government does not focus on conference tourism as much as it should.
The Greek conference sector has continuously requested support on major issues that include the certification of the PCO profession, the need of a conference tourism committee, the necessity of a conference registry and the capital city’s lack of a Metropolitan Conference Center.
“There are conferences that we can not bid for because we lack a suitable conference venue, either in size or in the distribution of space,” Ms. Amarantidou said.
For many years discussions have been focused on converting the TaeKwonDo Olympic venue in Palio Faliro into a modern Metropolitan Conference Center but the project has been stuck in Greek bureaucracy.
However, Athens is considered a city that has potential and could host conferences with the existing infrastructure. For example, the conference center of the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron Mousikis) was considered ideal to host the 16th European Congress of Neurosurgery in 2016 due to its central location and number of hotels in close distance. (ARTION prepared the bid portfolio for the congress on behalf of the Hellenic Neurosurgical Society)
Greek Crisis. An obstacle for conference tourism?
Prior to Athens winning the bid to host the 37th WACS Congress, it was questioned if Greece’s delegation would have any luck considering the country’s economic decline and negative image in the international media.
“We honestly defended our country that is challenged daily by the international media and slandered with false statements and inaccuracies and of course we did not stop smiling,” Ms. Amarantidou said with a smile.
When questioned how Greece’s political and economic developments affected conference tourism in general, she stressed that the country’s position “is not secure.”
Besides Greece’s current economic crisis and infrastructure problems, Athens is currently facing a number of issues that have significantly affected its image as a city destination as well as a city break destination.
When asked if she really thought the Greek capital’s image will have changed for the better by 2016, Ms. Amarantidou answered that if she didn’t believe so, she would not have bothered to prepare the bid for the 37th WACS Congress.
“We owe it to our country to be optimistic, given that from our side we make every effort to overturn this (negative) image at every opportunity given to us,” she told GTP.
According to the latest International Congress and Convention Association’s (ICCA) report, Athens ranked 35th in 2011 in organizing international conferences (in 2010 the Greek capital ranked 26th).