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Athens > should promote its rich contemporary culture August 4, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greece Athens, Tourism.
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Too little informed, too late > In the past two years, the Hellenic Festival has made an enormous, and generally successful, effort at restructuring. Museums such as the Benaki’s new wing on Pireos Street have been putting on noteworthy exhibitions. Foreign groups and major stars now come to perform in Greece at the peak of their careers. Yet most visitors are completely unaware of these facts, and when they do realize what is on in Athens, it is often too late to find tickets.

“In contrast to other cities where tourists make sure they include a cultural event in their visit, or even better, go there expressly for that purpose, here in Athens we are way behind even though we have a lot to offer,” said Panos Panayiotopoulos, Director of the Inter-Continental Hotel in Athens. “It is extremely difficult for a visitor to find out what is currently going on in the city and even harder to find tickets,” he explained. “The Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO) should make special arrangements for the Hellenic Festival and not just reserve a small number of tickets for hotels. If visitors see a wonderful performance at the Herod Atticus Theater, they will be extremely motivated to come again.”

For Panayiotopoulos, everything in tourism is a chain reaction. “In order to have visitors spend more time in Athens before going to the islands, we have to boost conference tourism. If conferences are held here, there will be more demand for Greece, so airline tickets will be cheaper. Those who come on business will stay the weekend, bring their wives and children, spend time at museums and galleries.”

“Here at the Inter-Continental, we not only display works by Greek artists but we also organize a tour of galleries in Psyrri guided by an art historian. However, we shouldn’t have to be chasing up the Museums, foundations and festivals; it should be the other way round. The bitter truth is that no cultural organization has ever been in touch with us to brief us on its activities.”

Worldwide advertising of what’s on > Timotheos Ananiadis, the Director of the historic Hotel Grande Bretagne, sends e-mails to customers in advance with details of what’s on in Athens during their stay.

“We always ensure that our concierges are fully informed about what is happening in town. We always make the effort ourselves; however, no cultural organization has ever sent its program, or made a move we would welcome. Hotels are a nerve center for highlighting cultural events, particularly when they are not among the usual places people visit, such as the Acropolis or Ancient Agora. Recently, for example, we reached an agreement with the Pallas Theater to book a few tickets for performances there.”

Ananiadis believes we have made great progress in city marketing but there are still not the events that will put Greece on the map.

“Look what happened during the two sporting events in May, with the European finals for basketball and soccer. The word Athens was heard on every news bulletin. It is free advertising around the world. I’m not saying that visitors who came for those events will be interested in good Greek songs, but since they are here, we could give them the appropriate incentives. Often concierges will suggest that visitors go and hear Arvanitaki. But we have to convince them to come to Athens first and then we can see how they can spend their evenings. We need more impressive events, year-round.”

Inadequate promotion of events > As London taxi drivers are attending seminars in order to be able to distinguish Tate Modern from Tate Britain, Athens is dozing by comparison, said the Dutch Director of the Hilton Hotel, Bart van de Winkel.

“I often think that if the GNTO is to become more effective, it should have private partners, just as its counterpart in the Netherlands does. That way there are incentives for sales and activity. In Athens, very important things are going on but they are hidden away like secrets. Take for example the exhibition of paper clothing at the Benaki. It was wonderful but it was not advertised abroad as much as it should have been. I have rarely seen foreign journalists invited to cover the Hellenic Festival in depth, for example. If a foreigner reads about the Herod Atticus Theater three times in the Financial Times, he’ll want to come. It would be better to have a campaign on YouTube than on CNN; it will be seen by more people,” he suggested. “The events calendar is drawn up at the last minute and no one has time to plan properly. You often make visitors’ lives more difficult without realizing it, the museums, archaeological sites, galleries and shops in the center should be open all the time, even at weekends, but they are either closed or there are strikes or protest marches.”

The Hilton’s director believes that contemporary culture is not being promoted by the advertising campaigns.

“Everything is sea, sun and beaches; those are the priorities. But everyone knows about those things. That’s why you keep getting tourists who want to go to the islands carrying rucksacks. Take the example of Barcelona, which, until they held the Olympics, used to attract low-budget British tourists. Now it has become one of the most interesting cultural destinations among higher-income brackets for its architecture, food and culture. If Greece invests in culture, it can change both its image and the kind of tourists it attracts.”

Municipality asleep on the job > One would expect that city events would be advertised on the website of the City of Athens, www.athens.gr, but the English language site was last updated in December of last year. Its news section reported the death of the creator of Tom and Jerry and the return to earth of the Discovery, along with the weather forecast for December 20-21.

In links to other sites, there is a wealth of information on what is going on in places like Amsterdam, but nothing about Athens, even though most foreigners try to get a first impression of a city via the Internet. Instead of information on the city, they get a CV of current Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis.

Events at ancient sites can draw visitors > Greece’s cultural advantages, its archaeological sites and modern cultural productions, could be a strong attraction, according to the Inter-Continental’s director.

“Whenever there have been cultural events at archaeological sties, always with the appropriate care and moderation, naturally, they have made a lasting impression on our foreign customers,” said Panayiotopoulos. “If our ancient monuments are used with care for quality cultural events, we could make Athens a unique destination in tour guides, even in the summer. Just think that thousands of tourists go to Paris in midsummer, where there is no sea but monuments and amazing events.”

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