CULTURE

The new Hilton experience

On February 11, the day the Athens Hilton officially reopened its doors after a long period of extensive refurbishment, 20 of its diehard fans had already made reservations to spend the night. While the hotel will be in full operation by the beginning of September, those wishing to pay a visit or stay at this city landmark are increasing by the day. «It is how others perceive us that counts and we aim to win each and every guest,» said Jochem-Jan Sleiffer, the hotel’s manager, to Kathimerini English Edition. «We want our revolving door to constantly revolve.» Upon entering, visitors and guests face stark and minimalist spaces of marble, wood and glass; a sharp contrast to the hotel’s previous interior. And while the mood is decidedly 1960s – the hotel was in fact established in 1963 – the current interpretation points to the style’s general revival. There are also works by Greek artists such as Giorgios Lappas, Chryssa, Giorgios Zoggolopoulos and Pavlos, among others. The renovation work was carried out by renowned architect Alexandros Tombazis, the architectural company Aeter, Harry C. Bougadelis & Associates, and Bilkey Llinas Design Associates, for the interior design. «The hotel is currently undergoing a mega-renovation adding additional facilities and guestrooms in preparation for the 2004 Olympics,» said Sleiffer, stressing the predominant role the hotel will play during the Games. «But it is all the team members that work with such dedication and enthusiasm that is the soul of the Hilton Athens. The renovation is giving them the latest tools they need to provide the guest experience our customers have every right to expect.» These tools will include an infrastructure of 517 rooms – with 74 added rooms, this includes 220 facing the Acropolis, imperial and presidential suites and 10 rooms with wheelchair access, among others – as well as four restaurants and two bars, 14 conference and meeting rooms and one ballroom with a new 700-seat function area. Meanwhile, all-time favorites such as the Byzantine restaurant and rooftop Galaxy bar, for instance, are becoming hot spots. At the Galaxy – where the hotel’s five-star rating is reflected in the prices – the evening’s panoramic view of Athens is complemented by a selection of vodkas and designer cocktails, as well as finger food – think foie gras with mango and wild peppers or «shaken, not stirred» oyster tempuras and teriyakitini, while an outdoor BBQ area will follow. At the 24-hour operating Byzantine, diners can enjoy a la carte Aegean bouillabaisse with traditional skordalia (garlic puree), chicken tajine with herbs and rice pudding brulee, served on custom-made Ionia china; an open kitchen separates this area from those dining from the buffet. Also in the culinary department, the possibility that New York City’s Milos seafood restaurant might open a sister restaurant in the hotel is generating considerable excitement. In the rooms, guests will find the ubiquitous mini-bar accompanied by an electric kettle, spacious marble bathrooms – each complete with a separate shower suite – with glass partitions, while facilities include two direct-dial telephone lines with modem/fax, ISDN and voice mail and practical working space. In other areas, there are details such as Villeroy & Boch china in the catering department, chandeliers with built-in mechanisms for changing shades and colors, while the longstanding newsstand will be complemented by a Kessaris jewelry store and a few more selected fashion and accessories shops. What kind of clientele is the refurbished establishment aiming to attract? «We want to offer all market segments a unique experience both in terms of luxury and quality service, but having increased our convention and exhibition space to 6,000 square meters, it is our aim to attract more conferences, conventions, incentives and banquet events,» said Sleiffer. This explains the removal of the old cafe area from the lobby and the general lack of seating space – though visitors are welcome to sit in the atrium area situated next to the reception. Meanwhile, the addition of a state-of-the-art health club with spa facilities and indoor/outdoor pools (the outdoor pool will be ready in early June) points to the hotel’s desire to attract more leisure business. Business travelers will also appreciate three executive floors, featuring an independent reception area and lounge (serving breakfast, snacks at lunchtime, and hot dishes in the evening) – a hotel within the hotel. While the Hilton is ready for the pre-Games rush, there are those who are increasingly worried about the day after. «Apart from renovations to the present existing hotels in Athens and perhaps only one or two new hotels, there aren’t that many new rooms being added. The period after the Games will not be easy, but with the embellishment of Athens, new highways and other infrastructure enhancements, we are confident that we will pull through,» said Sleiffer. «I think the entire tourist sector would welcome the addition of a convention center in the city so as to allow large events to be accommodated in our city.»