Tourists depend on insider tips to know where to go

If you were to ask the minister of culture, the minister of tourism, the director of the Hellenic Festival or any other high-ranking administrative official of the capital’s museums or hotels what long-term goals Athens needs to set in terms of tourism, they would, in one voice, answer: strong incentives for foreign visitors to stay in the capital at least two or three days before heading for the islands, an opportunity for tourists to see something of Athens other than the Acropolis and the Ancient Agora and for them to leave with a good impression of the capital and the intention of visiting again. In short, what Athens needs is high-quality products and services and a long-term, inspired tourism development strategy such as that designed, and in part achieved, by Giorgos Loukos this year as director and architect of the revamped Hellenic Festival. Otherwise, the renaissance of Athenian tourism will remain in the hands of tour operators. Other than investments in infrastructure and high-caliber musical, theatrical, dance and artistic events, there is another area of great importance to tourism and culture that requires a complete change of mentality to work: a meaningful advertising policy that would promote every aspect of cultural life in Athens. In a city that does not have a weekly English-language magazine to inform tourists of what is happening in the city, visitors normally turn to their hotel receptionists to find out what is worth seeing and doing. Kathimerini contacted several receptionists at large Athenian hotels and asked them what negative and positive feedback they got from their clients this year, especially concerning the Hellenic Festival. «This year’s festival had a lot of interesting things on its program, but other than the very brief Greek-English pamphlet with the program, we never received a more analytical program of the events so we could tell our customers a bit more about the shows,» said Pavlos Papayiannis from the Inter-Continental Hotel. «The new venues such as Scholeio and Pireos 260 made a very good impression on visitors who were able to discover new areas of Athens beyond the Herod Atticus Theater and the Acropolis. Some even made their way to Malakassa for the Terra Vibe festival.» Crystal Antoniadou, of the Ledra Marriott, believes that the festival should have advertised itself more intensely abroad: «By the time visitors arrive in Athens, tickets for the major events are sold out. Those who decide to go at the last minute may not want to risk not finding a seat for a performance they know little about. There were several guests who would have liked to see a performance of ancient Greek drama, but in Athens and not Epidaurus, which is quite far away. In the summer, the hotel is full of Greek Americans who are very interested in anything in the Greek language, in Greek music and history. Thankfully, we have Kathimerini English Edition and they know what is happening in Athens.» The receptionist of the Hotel Grande Bretagne, who wished to remain anonymous, said that the Hellenic Festival could have provided more printed material on its events, highlighting its change of course. He also added that several visitors complained about the Acropolis Sound & Light show being canceled. «The Herod Atticus Theater is an Athenian staple,» said the Athens Hilton receptionist. «Tourists will go, regardless of what is playing, even if they don’t know a thing about the Greek language and music. We should take better advantage of this interest.» All four hotel receptionists also made another very significant point: Not a single museum – not the Benaki, the National Gallery or the State Museum of Contemporary Art – has ever sent their hotels material about their exhibitions. Visitors to Athens may see Botero’s sculptures, which are in plain view outside the Athens Concert Hall, but the ambitious exhibition organized by the contemporary art museum, «The Grand Promenade,» which takes place throughout the city, may well be ignored. How can we expect visitors to find the National Glyptotheque in Goudi or the Museum of Islamic Art in Psyrri if they are not given the information? The only museum that does not need to be advertised, according to the hotel receptionists, is the National Archaeological Museum.

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