A strict framework and strategy for the next day for the Economy and Tourism

The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in unprecedented conditions. Its development, the ensuing response of health bodies and its broader impact on the community are and have been, to a great extent, unpredictable. Governments around the world have tackled the issue in different ways, with the outcomes of their response systems varying depending on the measures that they set and the timeframes in which decisions were made. Despite the different models tested per country, most countries are now in agreement, at least in this regard.

It is internationally recognized that Greece was able to optimally manage the health crisis in the first stage of its appearance. Due to the immediate general lockdown, the spread amongst our fellow citizens was significantly contained compared to most other countries. However, the weight of this decision on the economy and its direct impact on every Greek citizen were huge. Thus, the absolute restrictions were gradually replaced by what was almost a total release from these measures.

During the second stage, Greece followed the “open funnel” strategy. That is, the maximum possible release of the economy, which would be limited (closing the “funnel”) at any time and place in response to the developing situation. The aim of this strategy was to enable the economy to function at its maximum possible extent, whilst enforcing restrictions when the ever-changing situation imposed them, given that the dynamics of the pandemic have been and remain unpredictable.

This is not how the market works, however; a clear framework is a pre-requisite for viable organization. A typical example of this is Tourism, a complex network which spans within and outside of borders, directly and indirectly constituting over 30% of GDP; especially during this period, it would normally employ at least 40% of the country’s workforce. Our potential visitors’ uncertainty about what will be open on their date of arrival, what operating conditions will be in place, and the circumstances of their return made it almost impossible to organize the “chain” which constitutes tourism: the various businesses at each destination, travel agencies, tour operators, airlines and everything involved in each Journey. Conditions were changing constantly and with an irregular timeframe, which affected each location differently. This meant that a number of unpleasant “surprises” were in store for those who chose to travel despite the current circumstances. The result was a loss in the faith of the consumer. In combination with unannounced changes in rules regarding exit from, and entry to, countries of origin, confidence in travel has been affected internationally.

But what if, in the second stage, we followed the exact opposite tactic? If instead of the “open funnel” that closes unpredictably, we chose the model of a more “closed and limited funnel”, which only has room to expand? That is, if we had strategically chosen a stable framework with rules that would not change? Of course, these rules would be much stricter than those of maximum release, perhaps stricter than they really needed to be, but they would be firm, unchanging, and known to all. In this way, the operation of the market could be organized under specific conditions so as to yield the maximum results that the circumstances would allow, as the consumer would have the confidence and knowledge to make informed choices. Even if the strict framework only allowed us to address smaller market segments, consumer confidence would ensure greater efficiency. I believe that a small but feasible goal would have achieved a better end result than one that’s broader and includes a larger element of risk. In addition, it would affect the market with significantly lower operating costs.

The year 2020 has been lost where tourism is concerned, while in 2021, similar conditions are expected. In light of this, it is our duty to learn from both the right and the wrong choices made this year, and to adjust our strategy. Especially for Tourism, we should gain an understanding of the developing dynamics by collaborating with the state and institutional bodies and, of course, the “umbrella” of the private sector, SETE. It is necessary to designate specific timings for the announcements of the measures that will define the rules and operating framework of Tourism, depending on their categories. These rules should be as favorable as possible, so as to facilitate its smooth operation. It is imperative to set these strict measures in place in a timely way, aiming to increase the faith of the consumer, which will in turn ensure the existence of tourism. The difficult and volatile conditions we are called to overcome require prudence and maximum stability, wherever this is plausible.

Undermining tourism is unfounded and can be dangerous for the country’s economy and for the wellbeing of its citizens as a whole. The Greek tourism industry can and must operate despite these extraordinary conditions. Its revenue will be reduced, of course, but it will continue to constitute a vital contribution to the GDP. Due to its spillover to other sectors with a multiplier of close to 2.6, for every €1 spent directly on Tourism, an additional €2,6 is spent on related services provided by other industries. As Tourism and Catering are the largest providers of employment in our country, supporting these industries should be our priority at this time, especially with the consideration that their geographical dispersion provides employment in remote areas and islands, places that would otherwise be deserted due to the absence of productivity. The development of new economic activities in Greece is absolutely necessary and makes total sense, as it will offer a competitive advantage to the country. Notwithstanding, it is illogical to discuss that this be substituted for the viable economic activity currently taking place, which already holds a competitive advantage, great added value, multiplier benefits and huge room for further development. The tourism industry and its ‘ecosystem’ must, as a matter of priority, be supported by a long-term strategy. It is crucial to protect its integrity while safely undergoing the difficult next three years (at least) that await.

A new era for conferences and events

The need for networking and education continues, with flexibility and adaptation to the new reality as technology provides the answer yet again

March of 2020. The month which changed reality for us all. Today the COVID-19 pandemic is still here, with Greece and the entire word experiencing a second wave of cases. A return to what we knew is sure to take time, or, at least, transpire only once the vaccine is available to us. Until then, how do we proceed?

The hospitality sector has received a hard blow, and not just in regard to travel. The arrangement of conferences and events is an important piece of the pie for the survival of hotels, whether this concerns the accommodation of the delegates or the hosting of the events themselves.

Speaking in numbers, the cancellation and postponement rate for international events in Greece surpasses 95%, whilst there is a corresponding percentage for national events at conferencing venues, in accordance with a survey conducted within the first fortnight of July by the Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers (HAPCO), the Athens-Convention and Visitors Bureau (ACVB) and the Thessaloniki Convention Bureu (TCB). These cancellations and postponements are estimated to have resulted in a 69% reduction in turnover for hotels, venues and conference centers. 

Hybrid Conferencing Formats & Technology

But… Can we stop? The need for networking and training goes on, so flexibility and adaptation to the new reality through technology is our answer here as well. The digital transformation of such events may not be complete, but it could offer conferencing a new, “hybrid” form with small speaker panels and a wider audience of participants, who can observe and take part through online tools. A great number of events and exhibitions in Greece and abroad are now heading towards their virtual versions, and it’s certain that the rest will follow, with the internet and technology acting as their “lifelines”.

Something that will also flourish in the near future is the concept of small, more exclusive events. In larger venues than usual, through the observance of the necessary distancing, the appropriate measures as far as the banqueting element is concerned — the buffet is no longer in the picture — and reinforced by health measures, the next in-person events will be small and very targeted.

The new era for conferencing and events has the investment in advanced technological equipment as a prerequisite, so as to assist the ease of experience for participants. New, innovative technologies are sure to crop up so as to serve the industry in this transitional period, whilst selecting the most appropriate venue will also be given special importance. The guarantee of safety is what will make a difference for every venue/organizer, with versatile, spacious rooms becoming the most coveted. The success of an event will now be judged by the health and safety of its participants.

Networking cannot stop

On our way into the final quarter of the year, 2020 is a “lost year” for events, as will be a part of 2021, since some recovery is observable from spring of next year and thereafter. Events may seem difficult for the period that follows, but are by no means impossible. Either through technology or in small, flexible groups, networking cannot be abolished, but will be adapted to the current situation, until we are, once again, in the position to discuss the possibility of human contact. As in the case of travel, where the desire to discover new worlds can’t cease to exist, for conferencing and events, the thirst for knowledge and need to network will persist, finding its way back to normalcy once more.

Professional isolation and its results for the community

The new circumstances impose a redesign of office spaces, where employees is necessary to return.

Two issues have concerned us since the start of the pandemic: health and the economy. We’ve watched with bated breath how they balance with each other, and how their interactions and counter-trends have trapped governments into choices that require sacrifices and bring about great costs. All of this, however, concerns only one factor: people. The health of the population is what needs to be protected, whilst also preserving the health of the economic environment, which, in turn, ensures a good quality of life. But is the COVID-19 virus the only threat to human health? Is the economic crisis that will follow the only thing that endangers quality of life?

The sudden and instantaneous change to the conditions of our day-to-day, as well as the violent and frightening feeling of an invisible, deadly danger, threaten everyone’s health and quality of life to an equal extent. Additionally, the social distancing that’s imposed has further magnified these threats and their real consequences. Fear, insecurity, ineptness in the face of the unknown and social isolation may leave even deeper wounds.

The evolution of humanity has taken place thanks to its self-organization in communities, individual ensembles, and other such structures. Challenges, big or small, collective or individual, were met through cooperation, support and compassion. Real contact is essential. True relationships are the counterweight to the wear and tear of daily struggles, the incubators of strengths and ideas. The distance and lack of reliability of digital communication requires the restoration of in-person socializing. Both now and in the future, the return to normalcy for our personal and professional lives is crucial.

It’s no coincidence that, for decades now, successful businesses and organizations have been investing in their work environments and the management of their human resources. Buildings, facilities and functions have been designed so as to increase productivity, creativity, an alignment with company values and culture, while enhancing the quality of daily life of employees. The development and reinforcement of the productive teams within these organizations constitutes a priority, and is achieved systematically and through proper structuring. Nearly all educational projects and events are designed not only to convey knowledge and information but to increase interaction and reinforce the cohesive web of executives and other stakeholders. Additionally, all organizations receive provisions for benefits aimed at improving the quality of life of employees; in larger institutions this takes place in a highly structured manner, whereas for smaller businesses it’s less formal and more customized.

There’s a self-explanatory difference between this organization and the home environment. Also, the invasion of work into personal space and time dangerously disrupts much-needed balances. This turn in events — the abolition of boundaries and clear structures and systems — along with the general insecurity and anxiety caused by the unknown and disorganization of everything that has been concrete up to this day, are capable of causing deeply rooted trauma to people and social structures.

As necessary as it may be to address the imminent health issue of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s just as important that we face the economic issues created by the lockdown and their subsequent middle-and-long-term consequences, as well as the health and communal risks that will arise if these changes don’t take place in a structured way. The need to adapt to these new conditions is indisputable, but the above effects on people and organizations can’t be ignored. It’s crucial that compensatory countermeasures be added so as to protect these endangered balances. These new conditions require a redesign of the workplace, where it is necessary to return. Its configuration may change, as could its ratio of space to employees, with means of online communication remaining the same or even significantly enhanced.

The number and size of meetings could be altered, but human contact in an environment that’s safe, organized and work-appropriate is irreplaceable. Until adaptations to infrastructures and functions are finalized, and for as long as circumstances impose social distancing  (and in many cases, working remotely), activities that will balance out the isolation and retain a continuity in the fabric of organisations are needed. Specially designed company events, educational programs including interactivity and physical presence, team building programs and more can be employed as counteractive measures, to protect employees and businesses. In this transitional stage, it’s necessary to reinforce such actions, which will safeguard the health of humanity and the economy.

Hotels and the pandemic. Adapting to these new risks

The interest of hoteliers in preserving the health and safety of guests was always great, but now, it constitutes the ultimate priority.

Three months that felt like an eternity. Three months filled with worry, questions, and important decisions that required immediate action. Nonetheless, one constant remained: hospitality must stay true to its character, even on the next day. None of us knew what the future held but it was absolutely clear that it would need to preserve the principles of hospitality, just as they are written in our DNA: safety and services with personality, local authenticity and a Greek identity. Our country’s most powerful brand must remain powerful, retaining its essence and feeling, even if the new conditions seem to ask that it be more… sanitized.

The health and safety of guests and employees have always been important to hoteliers, but now, they constitute the top priority. Reinforced hygiene rules and a restructuring of the sanitation routine for rooms and common areas aren’t a choice, but a prerequisite, with Greek and international hotel brands developing new protocols that are here to stay. The pandemic which has struck, and continues to strike, our planet has brought us against new risks, both as industry professionals in hospitality and as possible guests. Risks which will be sure to concern us in the future. As a Group, we considered it to be of vital importance that we invest further in the field of health and safety, which is why we have participated in the creation of a comprehensive certified standard. 

We are adding a new managerial element to our units, that focuses on health and concerns the implementation of integrated policies and procedures to prevent and avoid the possibility of disease transmission, whilst also ensuring that effective and immediate medical care and basic primary health services are provided in case of emergency.

Though costly, this initiative is a matter of responsibility for the wellbeing of our visitors; taking this path is the only way to foster and maintain a relationship of trust with our guests. All our actions aim at ensuring that a “worry-free” experience is achieved whilst the purpose of the stay — be it business or leisure — is fulfilled.

It has always been crucial, and is now imperative, that we develop and dedicate resources to education, as we redefine its goals and the ways in which it’s performed. Today, the continuous training of hotel staff members, who are the most valuable assets of our units — all those individuals who are called to understand, implement and observe the new measures without burdening our guests or making them feel differently than before (wherever possible) — is more than just a necessity. In the new era that awaits, tourism professionals should be exactly that — professionals. With contemporary and systematic education, training, consistency, knowledge and love for the subject. There is a responsibility, both from businesses and from the state, to care for these professionals at this time; not to abandon them to insecurity and the objective reduction of their salaries. Every one of us must carry our fair share of this burden.

This year, the way in which we will handle the above — meaning both the health factor and the economic consequences that ensue — is a matter of survival and decisive importance. Nonetheless, this year we also have an opportunity, when favored by the circumstances, to discover and promote mainland Greece. The Greek and international visitors who we expect to receive may choose to discover the beauty of the mainland, and the result could be beneficial in more ways than one. The support and promotion of our mainland tourism products, whether or not they’re located by the sea, can act as the beginning of a new national strategy. Maintaining the continued upgrading and promotion of our established and developing island destinations, the increase in the options which we offer and their organized, systematic development and promotion, may offer nearly expense-free solutions for chronic issues that are important to us. With our land borders, but mainly our two large airports, the Athens International Airport Eleftherios Venizelos and the Thessaloniki Airport “Makedonia” as our entry points, we can target markets and tourist seasons without being tied down by the restrictions of charter flights. In this way, we can take imminent action so as to achieve the much-awaited expansion of the tourist season. Meanwhile, we can increase our country’s capacity for tourism during peak seasons, just by taking advantage of existing infrastructures. The development of our seaside areas’ infrastructure is significant, after all, without sacrificing their natural beauty. From Chalkidiki to Pelion and from Syvota to Messinia, Greece is teeming with gorgeous destinations that deserve to be discovered; our country is ready to initiate its new-age travelers to its culture through unique storytelling. What’s more, the development of differentiated, character-filled tourism products all over the country leads to partnerships which can further reinforce our competitive position on the worldwide tourism map, which will benefit both our developing destinations and the ones already in the spotlight.

Greece will never stop being a beloved destination and, all together, we have a duty to continue to serve the strongest brand of our country with flexibility and responsibility, by adapting our functions and ensuring that we provide visitors with the authentic Greek experience. In this way, we will offer them their own, personal “pieces” of Greece, making them the “ambassadors” of our country in all places of the world.