Sissi Lignou - CEO, AFEA Council Member, IAPCO

What do you see in store for the mobility of investments in the next 24 months in our country?

More than ever, Greece now presents a unique investment opportunity in the Tourism & Meetings Industry sector, providing at the same time multiple competitive advantages as a destination.

The pandemic hit our country in the wrong timing, while Greece was re-positioned on a much higher place as an upscale touristic and meetings destination. ICCA (The International Congress & Convention Association) ranked Athens in 2019 on place 17, from 24 in 2018, while Thessaloniki climbed from position 53 to 39. Greece was positioned in place 13 in European and 21 in worldwide rankings. The country was coming into the frontline and was getting more attention.

While we already experience a mobility in new hotel openings, hotel & venue renovations, management changes and of course breakthrough projects coming to life, such as the Hellinikon Project and the enhancement of the wider coastal zone of Athens, still, this should just be considered as the beginning. Greece offers a state-of-the- art variety of convention space and conference facilities already, but at the same time there is plenty of room for further improvement and greater investments related to the Meetings Industry. As the city which has successfully hosted Olympic Games, our country’s capital is definitely in need  of a metropolitan Convention Center with a minimum capacity of 3.000 participants as well as adequate exhibition space. A wide list of International/European Organizations wishing to host their conference in our destination, have excluded Greece from their list, due to the lack of capacity. It also needs to be highlighted that major international events already hosted in our country have delivered record-breaking attendance, consequently we clearly have the potential be considered as a top selection for future events. Furthermore, such an investment could be a boost for
our economy and development and would contribute positively to the generation of income, taking into account that the Meetings Industry is directly linked with more than 40 professions and that an event participant spends 7 times more in the destination than a plain visitor. It is absolutely necessary for the country to facilitate such investments in order to accelerate economic growth.

Do you expect to see a decline in investment levels in your field in 2021?

We definitely do not see an increase in investments for the year 2021, as far as the national Meetings Industry is concerned. However, despite the negative impact, the pandemic also created space and opportunity for investments in the field of education, technology and overall transformation of our business. Event Planners and Professional Congress Organizers had to re-act, adapt  and act quickly. Despite the important loss in income and overall negative impact on our business, as well as the need to postpone (or in a few occasions cancel) a great majority events, in parallel within a very short period of time, we received education and gained knowledge & expertise in a new element, virtual & hybrid events, transforming our business completely to virtual mode. The virtual & hybrid element is here to stay and will dominate our future, thus important investment in this field will be required.

The digital transformation was rapid but led us meeting professionals to a more sustainable future for our events and we aim in making the most out of this major change, combined with the re-opening of our business and a dynamic “come-back” of physical/hybrid meetings.

The transformation to a hybrid world will absolutely lead to higher costs per event or project, so further support and investment in that field will definitely be a case and a future need by event professionals.

However, hybrid formats can be a catalyst to a full return to in-person events and there will be need for extensive meeting policies in the future.

In your sector, what are the structural changes (legislative framework, infrastructure projects, etc.) that you think should be made within the next five years so as to increase tourism-related investments in Greece?

The MICE (Meetings) sector in Greece has a very limited legislative framework which definitely needs re-visiting and full re-structuring, adaptive to current and future trends. HAPCO (The Hellenic Association of Professional Congress Organizers), the body representing the entire Meetings Industry of our country, has repeatedly submitted proposals on the need for a strategic approach of the Industry, in cooperation with all key stakeholders. The pandemic has been an opportunity even in this case, as we have experienced collaborations between governing bodies and organizations involved in our Industry, wishing to join forces and find pathways to promote the country’s dynamics in the meetings sector. But still, this is not enough. Greece definitely has the potential to be placed among the top meeting destinations worldwide and our decision-makers need to embrace our Industry’s value on recovery and development and focus on its upscale promotion and development.



In addition, we must consider that our competitors around the world (on both city and country level) are re-designing their brand identity for the post-covid area and already promoting their potential as next destinations aggressively. Of course, the new campaigns recently launched by our national tourism organizations are a very important step forward and have already received positive comments. These campaigns should now go into deep and focus on further sub- sectors of our Tourism Industry, such as MICE.

Which aspect of the country makes it an attractive investment destination in the field in which you operate?

Greece is an all-year destination with multiple areas for further investments on both leisure as well as business Tourism. In regards to our respective field, our country’s meetings potential is not only great in our 2 major cities, Athens and Thessaloniki, but in many other cities, mainland, islands and wider regions which provide quality hospitality & meeting facilities. Investments and enhancement of existing infrastructure can be attractive throughout the country, a fact that requires further research. In any case, we are now on the perfect timing to collaborate and conduct a long-term strategic plan for the development of our national meetings business.

What do you think the investment landscape in our country will look like five years from now?

Should we succeed in realizing the value of our Industry, act quickly and collectively, I am confident that our country will succeed in coming into the frontline on the long term as a top, sustainable, modern meetings destination, which will leave its legacy and create unforgettable memories to every visitor. We should not miss this opportunity to act now.

Greece offers a state-of-the-art variety of convention space and conference facilities already, but at the same time there is plenty of room for further improvement and greater investments related to the Meetings Industry.

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