“We must put more effort into quality”, says Angela Gerekou, the dynamo artist, businesswoman and former politician who was appointed Chairman of the Greek National Tourism Organisation in September 2019. “We must stress the year-round advantages of this glorious country”.
Speaking on 22 November 2019 at breakfast atop the Grande Bretagne (GB), Athens’ iconic Luxury Collection hotel, even she was too hot. The sun blazed down, as it can any day, year-round. She relayed, at a rapid-fire pace, the many advantages of her native country. Great and modern Athens airport with nonstop flights from New York, throughout Europe and the Middle East, and Beijing. Speedy airport connections. Great hotels – including 2,000 additional rooms that have been added in the last year, as well as the reborn 303-key Four Seasons Astir Palace Hotel Athens. Add to the list beautiful countryside, clean air and beaches and a keen awareness of sustainability, plus outstanding food and drink, genuine service, and culture, from the Acropolis and Benaki and a myriad of other museums and historic sites.
She is already working with the National Theatre of Greece, to have subtitles, not only in English. Visitors will be able to go behind the scenes, to meet performers and attend workshops. The new GNTO platform, which does not yet have a name, will also enable visitors to meet up with ceramicists, fashion designers, jewellers, and makers of the best feta and ouzo, not only in Athens but throughout the mainland and some of Greece’s 3,000-plus islands.
The islands, indeed, are a big summer-time draw, as is cruising. Angela Gerekou, who was born on Corfu, is not the only one trying to extend pre-island and pre-cruise stays, currently often only one night in Athens. If visitors would only stay one additional night in the Greek capital they would be all the more refreshed when continuing on their way: the same applies to post-islands and post-cruise.
The last published figures, for September 2019, recorded just over three million incoming visitors for that month alone, bringing revenues up 13.6% over September 2018: for the period January-September 2019, total tourism brought in €16.08 bn. Greece’s main luxury markets are the USA followed by UK, and Europe, Middle East and, growing, China. Airbnb is making huge inroads into the country’s tourism and Angela Gerekou is also working on a framework that includes a moral code for all concerned. She wants to work with, rather against, the behemoth.
She knows Greece and luxury need to be more intrinsically linked in the industry’s global awareness: her 2020 incoming forecast will not be increased from 2019’s figure but, she promises, the level of quality will rise. This is helped by such culinary events as a dinner to be cooked in Athens on 19 February 2020 by Mauro Colagreco, whose Relais & Châteaux Mirazur Restaurant in Menton, France, tops the 2019 S. Pellegrino list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. And jump a year ahead, to 2021 when Elefsina, 20 miles west of Athens, will be a European Capital of Culture.
Angela Gerekou qualified as an architect in Rome before starting a theatrical career which led to politics – she was Vice Minister of Ministry of Culture and Sport, in the cabinet of George Papandreou.