Helexpo, organizer of the annual Thessaloniki International Fair, is making a dynamic descent south to Athens, while also expanding all aspects of its activity, President Aristotelis Thomopoulos told Kathimerini. He added that, apart from the existing exhibition center in Maroussi, the company plans to create a second major exhibition center and to license the use of the conference center at the Olympic tae kwon do venue in Faliron. According to Thomopoulos, these initiatives by Helexpo will help to realize the plan toward making Greece’s state exhibition and conference organizer more dynamic. Already the company’s management is looking for the right site for the needs of a big conference center of international standards in the broader Athens region to satisfy an old demand by many professional bodies in the capital. Helexpo is also taking part in the tender for the transformation of the tae kwon do center into a proper conference hall. Sources suggest that Helexpo may also show interest in the plot adjacent to its conference center in Maroussi, owned by the Olympic Stadium corporation whose president just resigned over allegations he’d directly leased the venue to a private firm. The same sources claim that Helexpo is interested in this plot because of its proximity to Helexpo Palace, which would satisfy the needs of big exhibitions. The company’s directors are also trying to increase its role by taking specific action in Southeastern Europe through strategic alliances. As Thomopoulos noted, every year Helexpo organizes the biggest commercial exhibitions in Greece and the broader Southeastern European region, with total exhibitors exceeding 5,000 each year and more than 1.6 million visitors from all of Greece and abroad. «It is known that international exhibitions are the gate for external trade, the lever for increasing exports,» he stressed. «The main condition to make the most of the opportunities they provide is the broadening of a country’s economic policy combined with the outward-looking character of its business world, so as to increase its presence on international markets, support exporting efforts, and for products and services to be sold and bought, for comparative advantages to be promoted and mainly for experience and know-how to be acquired, from personal professional experiences to specialized marketing surveys presented in international exhibitions,» Thomopoulos said. Helexpo’s exhibition sectors are agriculture, food and drink, construction materials, heating and freezing, furniture, books and publications, fishing and aquaculture, information technology, tourism, jewelry, local government, sports and entertainment, machinery and furniture, raw materials, transport and logistics, marble, bakery, pastry and coffee, metals, farming, careers and studies, cars and health and care, while every year it also organizes an exhibition for people with special needs. Economic diplomacy Thomopoulos believes that turning Thessaloniki into an international regional exhibition hub is the main objective of Helexpo’s development strategy for the next five years and a national goal for the expansion of the Greek economy, according to the recent speech by the prime minister at the opening of the 70th Thessaloniki International Fair. Crucially, the Foreign Ministry has highlighted Helexpo as the executive arm of Greece’s economic diplomacy. In its 180,000-square-meter International Exhibition Center located in Thessaloniki, Helexpo owns the biggest and most modern conference center in the Balkans, with a capacity of 2,400, which also has a roof garden for 700 people and an underground parking garage for 430 cars. The Ioannis Vellidis Center operates the entire year around and hosts the city’s most populous events as well as the biggest conferences in Southeastern Europe, concerts and even theater plays. This week, the heart of the tourism industry will beat in Thessaloniki, as from Thursday till Sunday (November 3-6 ) Helexpo will be hosting its 21st International Tourism Exhibition «Philoxenia,» to be held under the auspices of the Tourism Development Ministry and the Greek National Tourism Organization. Within the context of the exhibition, the National Tourism Council will convene on Friday, November 4, under the chairmanship of Tourism Development Minister Dimitris Avramopoulos, underscoring the significance of the Philoxenia and its contribution to promoting the Greek tourism product. Furthermore, on Saturday, November 5, Helexpo, the Thessaloniki Convention and Visitors Bureau (TCVB) and the Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers (HAPCO) are holding an international event on conference tourism as an alternative form of tourism, the development of which is one of the country’s tourism policy objectives as it supports the extension of the tourism season to the whole year. Titled «Conference Tourism: The Big Challenge,» with speakers who include academics and representatives from tourism association and conference centers from Greece, the United States, Great Britain and other countries, the event will tackle the following subjects: The Modern Conference Market (the size of the market in Greece and internationally, infrastructure needs), Convention and Visitors Bureaus and Conference Tourism (their role and the benefits of conferences for a city), and what makes a conference center to stand out (modern technologies, state or private investments).