The Athens Convention & Visitors Bureau is happy to guide you, whether you are planning an event, seeking a trip, or simply want to learn more about the Classic City of Athens. It is Athens-Clarke County, Georgia’s official destination marketing group. Vagelis Vlachos, Chief Executive Officer of the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency, is an experienced project manager with a track record of success in planning, implementing, and making decisions, as well as a background in local administration. He is a skilled professional who has worked as an engineer, a technical consultant, and an operations manager.
Below are the highlights of the interview conducted between the World’s Leaders and Vagelis Vlachos.
Tell us about the inception of Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau How did it all start?
After the Olympic Games in 2004, Athens was recognised as a rapidly developing destination with a unique dynamic and great potential. For Athens, conferences, company meetings, exhibitions, and incentive travel represent one of the most profitable and high-quality forms of tourism. So, the City of Athens established in April 2008 the “This is Athens – Convention & Visitors Bureau” to represent Athens in the global tourism and MICE markets. The aim was to act as the official tourism board of the city and to establish Athens as a leading year-round destination by focusing on urban tourism. There was a specific focus on marketing Athens for city breaks, conferences, trade shows and major events through the Athens Convention Bureau.
Tell us about your background and what did you do before you started/joined the Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau?
Before joining the Athens Development and Destination Management Agency as CEO, I was Director to the Regional Governor of Central Greece, where I oversaw the strategic planning and development for the region. Prior to this, I was the special advisor to the Mayor of Karpenisi, a town in Central Greece. My area of expertise was public works, new technologies, funding tools, and infrastructure development.
How do you handle team members who have different opinions about the direction of a campaign?
Strategic development and destination marketing requires the combination of different priorities and objectives, not only from team members but also from local stakeholders. Different opinions should be given space because they may lead to very beneficial and productive ideas, helping to guarantee that the end result is easily understandable by the public, and guaranteeing a greater outreach.
Tell us about your proud moment as a leader and the achievements of Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau?
A proud moment would definitely have to be the successful and flawless organisation of the signature Travel Trade Athens event in April 2021. The event was especially important this year because we missed a year due to the pandemic, and then decided to go hybrid. It was a test of all our skills: coordinating team members and service providers from different countries, hosting buyers, suppliers and key stakeholders while working remotely on tight deadlines. We wanted to deliver a very interesting educational workshop and B2B meetings despite the partial lockdown. It was a very challenging and rewarding experience for the whole team.
Tell us about your vision for the Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau.
First, we need to make sure that the visitor economy is not just creating tourism bubbles where everything is more expensive than the rest of the city and where nothing is accessible or attractive to residents. We should be talking more about inclusivity and product diversification, because our chief aim is to make Athens a sustainable tourism destination. Our goals for tourism have changed since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, we had more visitors and events than at any time in our history. In the coming years after the pandemic, we want to continue welcoming as many visitors and events to Athens as we can handle, but we also want to do it better. The last two years have given us an opportunity to study Athens and find partners who share an interest and love for the city, and that is helping us to better understand our opportunities and limits. We are learning from the city and from our local experts and community, and we are also studying the best sustainable practises of our international peers. And today, with this knowledge in our hands, we are slowly acquiring a consensus and starting to move in a common direction. For sure, we want our visitor economy to continue to grow, but we also want to be sure that tourism is sustainable, inclusive, and safe. In a few words, we want to focus on quality of life, and not just quantity. We believe that quality of life attracts visitors. It’s the culture of Athens that makes people fall in love.
How do you ensure a culture of integrity and innovation in the Athens-Convention & Visitors Bureau?
We are committed to continuously enriching, upgrading, and diversifying our products and services to boost the destination’s competitiveness and to keep our team busy and curious. We are grateful to have experts and professionals from different business sectors and counties in our team. Our editors and press officers are from the USA, France, and Australia. We make sure to build the right partnerships with local and international organisations and we invest in new and sophisticated technologies through the Athens Digital Lab, Athens Makers Space and the Athens Partnership. We seek to involve the intellectual leaders of the city to act as our ambassadors along with entrepreneurial and innovative pioneers. Most of all, we seek to empower the local community, build the economy, and support the creative industries.