The Region of Central Macedonia boasts some of Greece’s most spectacular natural and cultural treasures, from Mt. Olympus to the beaches of Chalkidiki to the palaces of the family of Alexander the Great, with the glorious city of Thessaloniki the jewel in the Macedonian crown.
Tourism is both a national and regional priority, and Paraskevi Patoulidou, the Vice Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia & President of Thessaloniki Tourism Organisation (TTO), provided The National Herald with an overview of Thessaloniki, speaking first about the city’s tourism fundamentals.
“From being a travelling crossroad with 2333 years of history to taking the helm as Europe's Youth Capital thanks to its nightlife, art, culture and foodie scenes, Thessaloniki has always been a city with many stories and one big beating heart,” she said, and then noted some highlights.
“It’s a hot destination in numerous senses. Thessaloniki has become a city-break destination, with direct connections with major European destinations, 365 days a year,” she said, and one of the reasons it has vaulted onto international scene is that it is also “a gastronomic destination – it is considered to be the Food Capital of Greece.”
Those two elements have helped the city go from strength to strength as a Business Travel Destination.
“The city hosts several major exhibitions and conferences, including the International Film Festival and the Thessaloniki International Fair,” Patoulidou said, adding that those recent developments reinforce and complement the city’s traditional strengths.
“It is a renowned Cultural Destination with numerous themed routes such as UNESCO monuments, Roman, Byzantine, Wine route etc.,” she said, and as ‘Salonika’, the Thessaloniki is known as one of the world’s great centers of Jewish civilization.
Patoulidou then described the great historic depth of the city’s tourism:
“As a ‘travelling crossroad,’ Thessaloniki from the beginning of its foundation was quickly transformed into an economic-commercial touristic destination due to its strategic geographical location. The historical highlights include the city’s becoming the main Port of the Macedonian Empire in 316 BC, supplanting Pella, and gaining its own currency in 197 BC. When the Romans built the renowned Egnatia road,” that solidified its status as a major trade center. “The city become a cosmopolitan attraction for Egyptians, Syrians, and Jews and a cultural center featuring numerous religions, new ideas, and foreign influences,” she added.
As the Roman Empire evolved into the Byzantine Empire, the city became a major Christian center. “The Fourteenth Century is the Golden Age of Thessaloniki. Many artists and spiritual leaders chose to live in this city,” and, of course, St. Paul wrote two Epistles to its citizens. Those choosing to follow the footsteps of St. Paul will eventually find themselves in the great port.
Its Modern history is punctuated by its first railway (1918), Thessaloniki’s Airport (1948), and the establishment of the hospitality industry with hotels all around the city.
Tourism is one of the keys to Greece’s and Thessaloniki’s economic development, and the city’s youth are both contributors and beneficiaries.
“The local people are the ambassadors of the city,” Patoulidou declared. “They are the ones that create the character of the city and they complete traveler’s experience, but it’s important to note that Thessaloniki is the capital of the Youth, by having the biggest student community in Greece. Tourism of Thessaloniki benefit, for example, from organizing cultural events and festivals for young people in particular. ‘Youth capital of Greece’ is a brand name that characterizes Thessaloniki – this is beneficial for the city, as it creates space for more successful marketing actions with target groups and we can establish targeted tourism activities for the Youth.”
On Thessaloniki’s rich cultural calendar,” she noted, “festivals, such as Street Mode Festival and Reworks Festival have their own special place, and they present opportunities to visit the city and discover its modern cultural production in all forms of art and expression. The festivals enhance the touristic experience while they increase the chances of re-visiting the city. That’s why Thessaloniki Tourism Organisation supports some of the most popular festivals of the city.”
The city’s visitors are a very diverse group, and Patoulidou stressed its importance. “As the number of visitors increases each year, so do types of tourism the city can present. Thessaloniki is able to support many types of tourism: Cultural Tourism, Religious Tourism, Business Tourism, Sports Tourism, Medical Tourism, Leisure Tourism, Conference Tourism, and Gastronomic Tourism. And as a 365 city-break destination it attracts all ages. It also has good connectivity with nearby escapes as well.”
Patoulidou emphasized that, “the diversity of tourism is 100 per cent beneficial for the city, since it enhances Thessaloniki as a 365 destination, and for tourism in general,” she said.
With tourism growing in numbers and importance, she noted the need “to create a more organized strategic plan for the promotion of Thessaloniki’s tourism with targeted groups. There is also now an opportunity to establish more and better tourism facilities.”
Asked about TTO’s initiatives which has succeeded in promoting Thessaloniki as a Tourism destination for all, Patoulidou listed:
- Creating a website rich in touristic information for the city in six different languages (Greek, English, Russian, Italian, German, Chinese).
- Intensive use of social media (Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter).
- Creating an events calendar in Greek and English.
- Creating a comprehensive mobile phone application both in English & Greek.
- Support of fam-trips and press-trips in collaboration with foreign embassies, VisitGreece, digital influencers, journalists, etc.
- Support of conferences held in the city (such as the 8th UNWTO International Meeting on Silk Road Tourism, the Thessaloniki International Fair etc.).
- Promotion of the city by participating at international conferences both in Greece (Philoxenia, ASTA Destination Expo etc.) and abroad (for example, WTM London 2018, ITB Berlin).
- Support of various events and festivals of the city (TTO is a Co-organizer for the Street Mode Festival and the Reworks Festival).
- Creating content for publications such as, National Geographic’s Food and Travel, ABTA’s Country by Country, amd Parallaxi Magazine.
- Enhancing Thessaloniki’s brand name by promoting the Many Stories One Heart logo.