Interview with the president of Athens, Attica & Argosaronic Hotel Association, Ms Lamprini Karanasiou-Zoulovits:
“Attica is a thumbnail of our entire country; it has everything and it offers everything…”
1. Ms Karanasiou-Zoulovits, you have spent your whole life in the hotel sector. In your opinion, what are the components of a successful hotel?
We shouldn’t forget that a hotel is a “big house” and at the same time, a living miniature of society… A hotel literally constitutes the visitors’ home during their stay in our country and, it goes without saying that, the excellent quality of the services we provide, the constant adjustment of our offer to the new circumstances, the guest’s new needs or habits, are the primary objective.
To achieve this – constant – adjustment, we need to study the international trends and regularly renew our offering; make investments, smaller or bigger, for the renovation and modernisation of the hotel unit; and, of course, continuously educate and train our staff.
However, even the most state-of-the-art and organised hotel will not manage to fulfill its goal if it is unable to transmit to the guests its respect and love towards them, as well as the warmth and the interest of the hotel staff in “hospitality” itself. In other words, it needs to transmit the love, the passion and the genuine “smile” of Greek hospitality, as we have been taught in our country for ages.
2. What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “philoxenia” (hospitality)?
Philoxenia is a Greek word and the etymology itself reveals its meaning. It speaks of the love and friendship (“philos”) towards the stranger (“xenos”), which is exactly what we do when we welcome our guest with a glass of nice and cold orange juice and our warmest and most genuine smile.
3. Due to its mild climate, Attica can and has been in the last few years – showing a constantly rising trend – a group of all year-round destinations. In what way can this successful course be further enhanced? How decisive is the role of Attica’s island destinations, the numerous accommodation options (boutique hotels, spa hotels etc.) and the combination with events/conferences/festivals that are held in a destination?
Attica is, indeed, a destination that offers visitors endless options – throughout the year. It’s not only the excellent climate and the variety of thematic tourism options for the tourist or the professional travelling that clearly help, but also the organised, high-quality infrastructure in the hospitality, food and entertainment sectors, in combination with top professional services. In order to reinforce this successful course, the public sector needs to work with the private sector even closer, continuously and harmoniously, for the consistent promotion of the destination, the confrontation of inherent weaknesses and the development of a common strategy for further progress.
Our common goal should be the promotion of Athens as a unique “seaside city with satellite islands” in Europe. A city with numerous options for nearby day-trips and visits, either within the region to our beautiful islands that are just a stone’s throw away, or to neighbouring destinations of historical or environmental interest.
Most importantly, however, we should jointly communicate to the international markets that Athens and its islands constitute an ideal 12-month holiday destination that offers visitors a multitude of innovative products – some of which already exist while others have already been launched.
Let’s not forget the developments that will bring about a brand new Athens in the near future – capable of enchanting even the most demanding visitor: the great project in the area of Elliniko, in conjunction with the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Centre; the plans for the development and connection of the entire coastal front; our existing marinas and the future water airport that is being planned; the promotion of Eleusis and the multitude of renewed Art spaces in the city, such as the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the National Gallery, our renovated Museums etc.
4. What are the reasons that make Attica’s tourism offering competitive and value for money and what initiatives do hotels take towards this direction?
On one hand, Athens is a historical and modern European and international capital with substantial specific gravity and powerful brand name. On the other hand, the entire Region of Attica boasts an exceptionally competitive and quality tourism product when it comes to “nature and culture”, which is supplemented by our main infrastructures: the state-of-the-art airport and the metro, our internationally leading ports and of course the excellent quality of accommodation and the tourism-specific infrastructure, along with our experience in hospitality. From what I have indicatively mentioned in our discussion so far, it is clear that the entire Region of Attica has powerful competitive advantages that I believe can be highlighted internationally under the powerful brand name of Athens.
We hoteliers – but also the citizens, I might add – should take care of issues that have to do with our future, such as “green development” and our so-called “environmental footprint”, as well as the “harmony” between local population (local element) and tourism. I’m speaking of the so-called “tourism consciousness” that ought to be further developed, given that the term “value for money” cannot but include the satisfaction of the visitor from their experience and from their contact with locals in the destination.
Our values and the services we offer are the elements that compose our product and constitute the notion of authentic hospitality. In short the term “value for money”, when it comes to a destination, does not only entail the offering (and behaviour) of hotels to visitors – it concerns us all.
5. Why do you believe that Attica is a destination that can satisfy even the most demanding visitor? What possibilities do Attica’s hotel units offer with regard to personalised and luxury tourism services?
I don’t know where to start… there are thousands of reasons. The unique climate; the History, the archaeological and historical sites, the museums, the sightseeing; the sea and the Saronic islands; the variety of options for activities and nearby escapes; the specialised infrastructure and the quality of our offering, as I mentioned earlier. Attica is a thumbnail of our entire country; it has everything and it offers everything… And, as the Athens-Attica & Argosaronic Hotel Association’s annual surveys on visitor satisfaction testify, I think our guests themselves either know it in advance, or find out during their stay and communicate it in their environment.
I would say that our hotels have been “trained” to offer the best and they constantly renew their offering to the visitor. Therefore, they clearly offer personalised services: from respect to the visitor´s special dietary needs, accessibility or structured proposals for a memorable weekend or three-day stay in Athens – personalised for individuals or families – to ensuring special accommodation and culinary conditions for athletes, e.g. marathon hotels, bike services etc. Having said that, we could ideally conquer even more amenities, such as improved access to innovation (digital services), health tourism/medical services etc., the necessity for which has been especially highlighted these days. Finally, I would also add the special services for Culture. A characteristic example of this are the hotel members of the Athens-Attica & Argosaronic Hotel Association that have not only supported, in an innovative way, the international cultural events in Athens-Attica since 2010 but also created their own cultural proposal (the well-known cultural event “The stones speak”, featuring young actors reciting excerpts from ancient Greek and modern Greek literature in three languages – for local residents and visitors).
6. If you had five days off to spend with your family in Attica, which activities/places would you include in your itinerary?
That’s a good question! I would personally like to go everywhere and enjoy everything – at the same time. Five days are not enough, of course, but I would try to fit in as much as I could… Definitely, a long walk around the new “briliant” spots of Athens (e.g. the impressive new lighting of the Sacred Rock of the Acropolis, the highlighting of a series of statues in the centre of Athens and the new developments in the museums, the National Gallery, the National Museum of Contemporary Art, the SNFCC, the National Gardens etc.). Without a doubt, I would also opt for a tour along the coastline, in combination with visits to neighbouring vineyards and wineries. I’m looking forward to visiting the Tatoi Palace – when its restoration is completed – and the surrounding area which I think is magnificent; and of course I would plan a day cruise or overnight visit to the islands of the Saronic Gulf, as each individual one has an entirely different identity and unique cultural suggestions, offering exceptional events to the visitor.
If I had the opportunity, I would try to include in this five-day break a couple of visits to extraordinary nearby destinations such as Eleusis, Corinth, Delphi etc.
7. In what ways do Attica’s hotels win the modern-day bet of “experiential travel”? How effectively can they cover the new needs of travellers for sport and nature activities, wellness services, specialised culinary choices etc.? How do they accomplish that?
Attica’s hotels are already heading towards this approach, as they have acknoweledged the importance of “experiential travel” for visitors. Therefore, many hotels have been oriented accordingly or have developed partnerships and synergies with other businesses to achieve this, based on their location and the particular local features, or the particular characteristics of the unit itself. Even a hotel unit that lacks the above features, can develop internal or “within the walls” activities for guests, families and children. I believe that hotels are already putting significant effort into this direction, showing very good results.
8. How is safety achieved in hotels during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Throughout the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, Greece and Athens responded promptly and with great responsibility – bringing excellent results. Hotels invested a lot, despite the crisis that was looming, in order to support all requirements set by the “health protocols”. Not only that, they also demonstrated integrity and responsibility and followed all measures imposed by the state in an exemplary way, maintaining the high level of offering and, at the same time, keeping the standards of hospitality high for the guest, who in the end received the optimal experience. We never had any Covid cases in our hotels and we still go on – despite the problems due to the lack of clientele. However, we hope and work for the “next day”, focusing on what we collectively – the hotels, the destination and competent bodies – can present to our visitors “from scratch”. Our wish is for Athens to return – and it will return – to the international tourism scene, with new assets under its belt. This gives us the strength and courage to persevere despite these adverse circumstances.