ECONOMY

Athens’s prospects in attracting foreign business seen to improve after success of Olympic Games

The ugly duckling may have not metamorphosed into a swan, as in the fairy tale, but Athens’s improved picture after the Olympics is especially evident. The city still lacks in green spaces but the modernization of its transportation infrastructure, the restoration and revamping of buildings and squares, and the new parking facilities promise a more humane urban environment. These improvements appear to be reflected in small measure in the annual survey by real estate consultancy firm Cushman & Wakefield & Healy & Baker (CWHB) of executive staff of 500 big European corporations for the best city / entrepreneurial center in Europe, which was conducted in June and July, when many of the projects in preparation for the Olympic Games were still unfinished and building sites were still evident throughout. Athens ranks 29th in the relevant table, up one place from last year. «The change is quite significant and hopeful in how foreign businesspeople see Athens as a business center, given that the survey was conducted in June-July… With the staging of the Olympics, Athens surprised the planet and proved the breadth of its potentialities, and I think this will impressively improve its position in the results of the survey in 2005,» says CWHB’s general manager in Greece, Niki Sympoura. Despite the improvements, it is certain that Greece still has a lot to do to reduce the gap between it and Europe’s top business centers, which remain London and Paris, considerably ahead of Frankfurt in third place. Much also has to be done to promote Athens. The majority of the executives surveyed consider that Barcelona leads in the promotion of its image, while Athens is not included in the first 25, despite having been just a few weeks away from the start of the Olympics. Easy access to markets and specialized personnel are considered the most important criteria determining where foreign companies will set up shop. The quality and reliability of telecommunications, the quality of life, labor costs, the availability of office space of high specifications and the urban and regional environment also play an important role. London wins the preference of the majority of those interviewed on most of these criteria. Warsaw stands out for its low labor costs, Barcelona for its quality of life, while Dublin enjoys the benefits of the strong support of business by the Irish government. Athens ranks between 26th and 30th with respect to the above criteria. Potential excess supply A question hangs over the prospects of the Greek capital toward attracting exhibitions and conferences, which is currently among the main considerations by officials assessing the future of Olympic installations. Paris is the indisputable leader in Europe, with 45 percent, and way ahead of Frankfurt (20 percent). Athens is not even included in the top 30. This ought perhaps to cause some concern to the planners, as the city may find itself with an excess supply of top-notch exhibition and conference centers, given its lesser attractiveness as a destination as a whole. Another factor worth considering is that EU enlargement is changing the business map of Europe, with the cities of Central and Eastern Europe now appearing favorites for the relocation, expansion or assignment of Western European business. In fact, EU enlargement is considered by European enterprises as the second most important factor that will influence their decisions after competition from Asian rivals, which seem to recovering well from the currency crisis of 1997.