The Municipality of Athens has quite a few plans for the Greek capital in the post-Covid era which include attracting digital nomads, organizing the first Innovation Summit, welcoming international film productions, renovating more public spaces and strengthening its cooperation with international networks to develop the city’s tourism potential, according to Melina Daskalakis, the president of Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (ADDMA).
“It is important that we are working at all levels to attract business and investment in the city,” Daskalakis says, however underlining that the municipality’s main priority is for Athens to first serve its residents and be a city in which people want to live in.
“We want to promote tourism in a responsible and sustainable way, not to compromise everyday life for the sake of tourism. Athens needs to be a sustainable, safe, and accessible city, first of all for its residents, and then for its visitors,” she adds.
In this interview, Daskalakis explains the exact role ADDMA plays for the Municipality of Athens, refers to projects that are ongoing to make the city more attractive and analyzes the message the city was passing abroad over the last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I would argue with great pride that ADDMA has faced the crisis head-on with creative flair and ‘out of the box’ thinking,” she highlights.
- GTP: How would you describe the role of the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency (ADDMA)? What exactly does it do for the City of Athens?
Melina Daskalakis: The ADDMA is a publicly owned company that supports the mission of the City of Athens. Our most visible role is to implement the city’s strategy for the development and promotion of Athens as a tourist destination. We have the advantage of possessing flexibility and specialized experience in tourism. As the city’s development and destination management agency, we are competing internationally and maintaining close partnerships within Greece.
The promotion of Athens as a tourism and MICE destination is one of the main development priorities for the City of Athens. The mayor and the municipal council give us strategic direction, and ADDMA develops the plan of action and then implements it. Broadly speaking, we also have projects in other key areas like entrepreneurship, culture, innovation and digital services, social cohesion and skills training.
Our goal, first of all, is for Athens to serve its residents, to be a city in which people want to live. We believe that a city that raises the standard of living and satisfaction for its residents will also be able to spark tourism and attract visitors. We want Athens to be a destination that visitors want to get to know, bring their work, or make a home. In other words, we are not interested in marketing tricks, instead we think the city can promote itself when we allow it to.
- GTP: What would you say is the ‘brand identity’ of Athens as a destination?
Melina Daskalakis: The identity of Athens goes beyond its history and ancient heritage. For example, it also includes our life outdoors, at squares and parks, eating and playing outside. We have studied the various ways that Athens is characterized in international media and we identified some dimensions that are important to us as Athenians but haven’t been talked about abroad. This is our inspiration to grow and maintain our brand, and also to focus on the quality of life of local residents in everything we do. We want to promote tourism in a responsible and sustainable way, not to compromise everyday life for the sake of tourism. Athens needs to be a sustainable, safe, and accessible city, first of all for its residents, and then for its visitors. This is the vision of Mayor Kostas Bakogiannis, and I am proud that ADDMA has embraced this idea with our hearts.
- GTP: How do you implement this strategy? What are your tools?
Melina Daskalakis: Our main vehicle is This is Athens, which serves as the official visitors guide as well as the international brand of the city. The site has developed a point of view and a voice that distinguishes Athens from other major tourism destinations, and it has extremely high-quality content as a result of creativity and systematic work. That’s an important point, because we not only talk about the key pillars and points-of-interest that attract visitors. We want them to come alive in a way that is unique to Athens, and we are absolutely consistent in our style. The editorial approach is designed to speak with one voice while also using the languages of our leading tourism markets. The site is in English, French and German, and the translations have been done by specialized language editors so that it’s all very precise and focused on our brand.
- GTP: What has been the message of the brand over the last year during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Melina Daskalakis: The last year has been a huge challenge to tourism. Our strategic planning was based on the exceptional rate of growth up to 2019 when we had around 6.5 million visitors in Athens. The strategy for tackling the pandemic in Athens has been extremely effective, as has been recognized by the World Health Organization and many others. And I would argue with great pride that ADDMA has faced the crisis head-on with creative flair and “out of the box” thinking. Early in the pandemic, during the first lockdown, we had a really beautiful message that said “Athens has been here for 2,500 years, it can wait a little longer”. It recognizes that people were feeling lost and confused at the start of the pandemic and longing to be outside in the city with their friends. I think we were one of the first destinations to have a message that fit the mood of those early months, both in terms of the need for calm and safety, while we also managed to clarify the voice of our brand in a way that was really meaningful.
In this same vein, we created our first series of podcasts called “We’ll Always Have Athens”. Each episode featured an international celebrity such as writer and actor Stephen Fry, who was recently awarded the Order of the Phoenix by the Hellenic Republic. Then there was photographer Robert McCabe, who has been creating iconic images of Athens since 1954, and author Victoria Hislop who splits her time between Athens and the United Kingdom, and the amazing fashion designer Mary Katrantzou who was born in Athens. This helped us to introduce international audiences to Athens even during the lockdown by telling stories about our culture, history and food, using the sounds of the city and the voices of our people.
During the second lockdown, in February 2021, we ran a campaign called “Love Letters from Athens” that was almost like a time machine. We wanted visitors to be instantly transported to Athens, like suddenly opening a box of memories with smells, sounds and images. Athens is a place that you feel in many ways, with all the senses, and we wanted visitors to have this rich experience even while they were waiting at home. Now we have taken another step in this direction with our second podcast series hosted by the acclaimed writer Sofka Zinovieff. It’s called “Athens Unpacked”, and it’s full of wisdom and humor about Athens. Again she gives us that feeling of Athens by describing what the city would smell like if it were a perfume. It’s a fun thought experiment.
Last, but not least, during the pandemic we launched the Athens Film Office (AFO), which has already supported many large film productions.
The AFO enhances the promotion of Athens by helping us circulate beautiful images and stories, while the global film industry now has a better reason to invest in Athens. It’s a demanding industry, and we have proven very quickly that we have everything it takes to meet their needs. We are welcoming big international productions, film crews of up to 500 people that stay in the city for 3 or more months. We need to give them access to facilities and technology, and we need to simplify bureaucratic obstacles.
It is important that we are working at all levels to attract business and investment in the city. This is part of the reason why This is Athens ran a campaign this year called “Even Lockdown is Better in Athens” that supports the idea that Athens is gradually acquiring the reputation of a remote work-hub. The first “corona nomads” who were working from Athens during the lockdown were young creatives who work in media, technology, and fashion.
- GTP: How is Athens preparing for the post-Covid era? Does the city have the capacity to keep the digital nomads who moved here during the pandemic?
Melina Daskalakis: The digital nomad trend started before the pandemic and we believe it will continue to grow in the years to come, now that many more people have experience working from a distance. Athens is lively and beautiful, and there is no question in my mind that more people will want to bring their work to Athens for a short time or live here full-time. One of the challenges posed by the pandemic was the need to accelerate the digital transformation of services to make them more accessible. The city has made incredible progress in the digitization of its public services and continues to give great weight to these efforts. And we have seen through programs such as the Athens Digital Lab that we can think big about innovation and integrate more digital solutions that will help Athens work in a smarter way.
ADDMA will contribute to the digital rebirth of the city by organizing the first Innovation Summit in collaboration with our educational institutions, research centers, chambers of commerce, as well as the private sector. We are reaching broadly because we are always trying to stimulate the local economy with a holistic and sustainable approach.
The city is working to maintain the public spaces that we inherited while also adding new parks across the city. The first three pocket parks opened during the last year, and more will be opening soon in every neighborhood. The National Gardens are being revitalized, and the slopes of Lycabettus Hill are being restored. Plans have been approved to re-establish Plato’s Academy as a public park that supports and brings enjoyment to the surrounding neighborhood, and soon we will launch a design competition for the new Museum of the City of Athens that will be located at the edge of the site. And we are taking many important steps like renovating public spaces and dozens of water fountains around the city. The city is repaving 50% of the roads across the city, and it will be repairing sidewalks throughout the city.
- GTP: Does the city coordinate its strategy in relation to Greece’s national tourism policy?
Melina Daskalakis: The promotion of Athens can be successful only if it corresponds to tourism at the national level, so of course we work very closely with the Ministry of Tourism. We also created This is Athens & Partners to coordinate promotional activities between the major stakeholders in the Athens tourism market. ADDMA represents the City of Athens, and we collaborate with the Association of Greek Tourist Enterprises (SETE), Marketing Greece, AEGEAN Airlines, Athens International Airport, Lampsa Hotels, Lamda Development, and Ionian Hotels. We share many of the same goals and we stay in close contact.
- GTP: Has the Covid-19 pandemic changed your approach to the tourism market?
Melina Daskalakis: ΜΙCE tourism was hit particularly hard during the pandemic. The This is Athens Conference and Visitors Office is another key pillar of ADDMA and a core part of the strategy for the City of Athens. They have been actively bidding for large conferences that we can host in Athens in the coming years, both traditional and hybrid formats. In April we successfully organized the 7th Travel Trade Athens in online format. Travel Trade is the leading meeting of Greek and foreign tourism professionals, and it was a remarkable success with more than 1.200 meetings completed.
In general, international travel will pick-up pace much later in the summer than usual and we hope it will be able to continue into the autumn. We chose to target markets that were ahead of the curve on vaccinations, as well as markets that present some growth opportunities for Athens when people are able start traveling again. For instance, Israel was showing progress on vaccinations and they were prepared to travel to Europe and the Mediterranean countries during the spring. Another example, a few months ago This is Athens launched a collaboration with Reach Global Marketing to promote Athens in Canada because we saw that there were opportunities to attract Canadians. We are constantly looking at individual markets and adapting our strategy, and we are redesigning our campaigns according to the circumstances.
- GTP: What projects are you planning to launch in the post-pandemic era?
Melina Daskalakis: We are developing a Sustainable Tourism Observatory that will be an essential tool for the collection and analysis of data on the tourism economy. Athens will be able to participate in the UNWTO International Network of Sustainable Tourism Observatories (INSTO), and we’ll finally be represented in world rankings and reports with accurate scientific data. This will help us reinforce our competitiveness in international markets, and it will also be useful to communicate locally with our partners.
We are continuing to strengthen our cooperation with international networks, exchanging knowledge and best practices that will help us develop our potential. We are working on a regular basis with the World Tourism Organization, the World Organization of Conferences and Exhibitions (ICCA), and the World Meeting Organizations (Meetings Professionals International).
We are also committed to protecting our cultural heritage as it is one of many ways in which visitors experience our everyday life. We have begun working towards a partnership with The World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage (WTACH) as part of our mission to develop sustainable tourism practices, because we can not forget this also means protecting and preserving our cultural heritage assets.
Most recently, we became a destination member of the Global Sustainable Tourism Council, and we are working with the GSTC team on a “destination assessment” so that we get a better picture of the development of Athens as a sustainable tourism destination. We always have in mind the Sustainable Development Goals of the World Tourism Organization to define our strategy and check how we are doing. And we are just beginning work on a carrying capacity research project in partnership with the World Tourism Association for Culture and Heritage. This will help us develop indicators to prevent over-tourism, helping us to protect our quality of life and urban infrastructure.