CEO Spotlight: Vagelis Vlachos, CEO of Athens Destination Development and Management Agency

Athens is changing in order to become a stronger brand abroad, adopt sustainability practices and attract even more visitors. The Athens Destination Development and Management Agency contributes to this direction with multiple initiatives. Athens has many stories to tell and much more to offer not only to its inhabitants but also to visitors.

Vagelis VlachosCEO of the Athens Destination Development and Management Agency in an interview for CEOWORLD magazine analyzes all the ongoing efforts for Athens to fulfill its mission in tourism, entrepreneurship and social inclusion and also highlights the planned improvements for a better quality of life.

Q: What is EATA’s vision for Athens and through what pillars of strategic action will it be accomplished?

Vagelis Vlachos: The Athens Destination Development and Management Agency is a public company owned by the City of Athens. Our job is to support the city’s mission in tourism, entrepreneurship and social inclusion. For example, we serve as the city’s destination management and marketing organization.

As part of these efforts, over the past few years we have developed This is Athens as a holistic brand to represent the city abroad, as well as to inspire conference organizers to choose Athens, to showcase the changing face of Athens and our sustainability initiatives. , and of course to attract visitors.

We have an online portal at which aims to show the city beyond the Acropolis and promote travel in all seasons by highlighting areas of the city. This year we launched the first This is Athens City Festival to invite locals and visitors to explore the city at over 100 events. It was a huge success and will definitely be back next spring to start the visitor season earlier than ever. This is just a small group of projects we are involved in, but it shows that we are working to develop partnerships and support the path Athens has taken today.

Q: How has Athens changed today compared to the past?

Vagelis Vlachos: Athens has changed a lot, little by little. Of course, the projects developed for the 2004 Olympic Games and the opening of the metro network had a great impact on the city.

Athens has become a much friendlier city for walkers and there has been a huge improvement in road traffic and congestion. Today, the city of Athens has begun to pick up the threads of these earlier projects, for example the connection between the Acropolis and the Panathenaic Stadium along Vassilisis Olgas Street. This summer, the city will deliver the lower part of Syntagma Square, based on a design that won a competition 20 years ago. We’re still talking about many of the same challenges that existed decades ago, like the fact that some areas of the city don’t have enough green space and parking a car is a hassle.

At the same time, we have intensifying problems such as heat waves and erosion. Solutions can begin by building on the past. For example, at the National Garden, walkways and irrigation channels were improved and new lighting installed, and at Lycabettus Hill, the city began work to mitigate the threat of soil erosion while beginning the outdoor theater restoration. These are flagship examples of projects that are actually happening across the city – creating pocket parks, repairing water fountains, planting gardens in schools and plazas.

It’s a top priority to make sure the city becomes accessible, so while widening the sidewalks and creating new ramps, there are also smart sensors placed on the street to help the city police monitor traffic. cars blocking pedestrian access.

Ultimately, we start talking about who we want to be as a city and we all realize that. This is partly due to the urgency of the pandemic, but it’s also because people know that maintaining the status quo isn’t working for anyone, and they’re optimistic that change is possible.

Q: After Covid-19, what does the overhaul of Athens’ tourist identity entail? What are your expectations regarding the number of tourists and revenues this summer?

Vagelis Vlachos: We have heard many times over the last year from our local and international partners that now is the time for Athens. Thanks to This is Athens, we have been able to open many channels of communication and we finally have the opportunity to tell our own stories about the city. It’s important because we want to have conversations about both antiquity and the modern city. We can talk openly with visitors about the pressure on our urban fabric and the challenges we face, and we can ask them for their understanding and support when we start construction projects or launch new public debates. Today, our identity is synonymous with honesty and authenticity, and we have seen visitors responding to this message with enthusiasm. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Athens has gained attention as a destination for long-term visitors like digital nomads. We expect this interest to grow because of the focus around the city on improving the quality of life, and because Athens actually has many of the qualities that long-term visitors seek.

More generally, this year we have seen airline capacity rebound and even surpass 2019. For example, there are more direct flights from the United States to Athens than at any time in our history. This is fantastic progress, and we look forward to monitoring its impact.

Q: In this period, with what actions are you bringing Athens’ image to life abroad?

Vagelis Vlachos: One of the most important initiatives to maintain the image of Athens abroad is the Athens Film Board and the dozens of film productions coming to Athens from major studios like Netflix, Apple TV and Amazon.

The growth of our local film industry is proof of our many advantages, including our archaeological sites and museums which are among the most recognizable in the world, but it is also about our incredible local talent and expanding global networks. . AFO creates opportunities for Athenians to compete in the international market by creating masterclasses in film production and supporting the development of cutting-edge skills in our local market.

We have an extremely smart and talented creative team behind This is Athens who helped adapt our message to the onset of the pandemic, and they found a way to strengthen the connection with travelers by showing them that our loving relationship will remain strong. We no longer see visitors just as sources of income, but as people who bring resources and engage in the city – if we manage it well, tourism can improve the daily lives of the inhabitants.

Visitors are Athenians for a day or a week, as long as they are in the city, and our investments in the quality of life of our residents in each neighborhood are also investments for visitors. This is our holistic approach. The city of Athens also created an umbrella to protect residents as well as visitors during the pandemic, which had a huge impact on the city’s perception of professionalism and safety.

We also used new media strategies, for example we created two This is Athens podcast series and we supported the transition of the conference and meetings industry to be able to host online and hybrid events. We invest heavily in social media and digital campaigns.

And in May 2020, we launched an initiative called Athens is Back in partnership with the Athens Traders Association to have a centralized online location for small businesses to offer customer discounts and recreate foot traffic .

Q: Athens is a member of the World Sustainable Tourism Council and is assessed against the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. What progress has been made in this direction?

Vagelis Vlachos: The World Sustainable Tourism Council completed an assessment in which we received an excellent rating for the work we are already doing to make Athens more sustainable. Over the next year, we will proceed with the certification. It is important to note that it is not just about receiving reports and a sheet of paper to hang on the wall. Together we show the value of sustainability and help local businesses integrate these principles into their business models.

Vagelis Vlachos

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Sara H. Byrd