Tourist Boom Could Bring Athens World-Class Convention Center

In this Friday, Aug. 17, 2018 photo tourists pose for a picture on Filopapos hill in front of the ancient Acropolis hill with the 2500 BC Parthenon temple in Athens. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

ATHENS – With more than 5.5 million tourists, who usually skip Greece’s capital for Greek islands, having stayed over in Athens, and record surges in foreign visitors, the numbers are bringing talk the city could have a world-class convention center to attract major conferences.

Athens is shut out of the biggest annual events of major corporations and other interests becaue there isn’t a big enough place with the kind of infrastructure needed to support such large-scale meetings, relegating the country to smaller events in hotels.

Rising tourism figures for the greater Athens area has again rekindled debate over the fact that the Greek capital lacks a world-class convention center, infrastructure able to attract the biggest international trade events.

With trendy neighborhoods, including the grimy, grafitti-covered anarchist hotbed of Exarchia bringing big investors, many from China, short-term rentals such as Airbnb are driving up rent prices and luring younger visitors as well as the kind of professionals who come to major conferences in cities around the world.

The number of international conferences and business meetings in Athens and Thessaloniki will show a 15 percent increase over the 2017-2020 period, the business newspaper Naftemporiki said in a report on the possibility of the convention center, with the goal being to build and operate a center good enough to bring top conferences.

That would need, according to most analysts, a main chamber able to accommodate upwards of 3,000 delegates andvisitors, at least 35 smaller halls and a minimum of 8,000 square meters (86,111 square feet) of exhibition space.

No facility in greater Athens or Thessaloniki today can host more than 2,000 people, with only the Metropolitan Expo – located next to the Athens airport but far from the center – able to host major international conventions.

Athens will host a major event in 2022 at the Athens Concert Hall (Megaron), with up to 4,000 delegates expected, the paper said, without giving any more information.

The tourism and travel sector accounted for 19.7 percent of Greece’s Gross Domestic Product of 169.53 billion euros ($194.6 billion) in 2017, or 35 billion euros ($40.18 billion), according to figures presented by the President and CEO of World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC), Gloria Guevara Manzo to Greek Tourism Minister Elena Kountoura.

Athens Mayor George Kaminis said there has been a “total recall” of visitors from a low point in 2012 during a particularly difficult period of the country’s more than eight-year-long economic and austerity crisis that has seen thousands of protests and riots, many shown world wide, and strikes frequently shutting down mass transit.

Je spoke on the sidelines of his municipality’s sixth-annual Travel Trade Athens event, which he said will host more than 3,000 pre-arranged meetings between foreign tour operators and vendors with Athens-based tourism professionals. Included are meetings between more than 100 representatives of buyers with suppliers active in the Greek market.

According to the WTTC, the tourism sector in Greece grew by 6 percent in 2017, compared to the previous year, almost double the international average for the year.