by Padraic Gilligan, Vice President of Industry Relations, MCI and Vice President of Ovation Global DMC
Athens Greece – wide open for business meetings
Do a Google search for Athens and you’ll get more results for the town in Georgia, that spawned REM (the thinking person’s rock group) than the city in Europe that gave us Plato and Aristotle (the Fathers of philosophical thought). It appears not to matter to the technology behemoth that a small provincial southern town (population, including environs, of around 100,000) ranks higher and more frequently on a Google search than the city which helped define the very nature of our civilised society. Thankfully meetings and incentive planners apply a more sophisticated and discerning filter to their searches for great destinations and Greece’s capital continues to win event business meetings and events despite its recent, and on-going, economic travails.
From Transactions to Consultations
I was back in Athens this week to participate at the MCI Global Sales Leadership Summit and edition number eight of Ovation Summit. This year’s theme, “Do you speak value?” focused on our evolving value proposition and how it may be used to take our conversations with clients from transactions to consultations. The Ovation summit, meanwhile, brought the wider community of wholly owned offices and strategic partners together for a review of the year that was, and a look ahead to the new leadership team that kicks in following the departure of the two Ps. As always, the magical spark that ignites when people come together was in great evidence, throughout the 3 + days of the events. As the party people dragged their wasted bodies to their rooms, the sporty people dragged their sleepy bodies from their rooms to report, in the lobby, for their 10km jog around the Acropolis. True round-the-clock engagement!
The Acropolis Museum
The new Acropolis Museum is a short walk from the Athenaeum Intercontinental, host hotel for both meetings, and Patrick and I managed to find a spare hour to visit. Housed in a spanking new structure since 2010, with spectacular views of the Parthenon, the Museum is wonderful both for the uniqueness of the exhibits and the stunning design by international starchitect, Bernard Tchumi. The new construction reflects something of the monumental grandeur of the ancient site itself while avoiding any efforts at comparison. Located below the outcrop on which the Acropolis rises, the Museum looks up at the archaeological site affording privileged views of it from its third floor. An AV presentation on this floor tells the story of the Parthenon, highlighting its engineering and architectural features such as its subtle but purposeful deviation from strict geometric form in order for it to be imbued with the pulse of life. Importantly for Planners of Business Meetings, the Museum can be rented privately allowing delegates the privilege of sipping their Chardonnay up close and personal to an architectural masterpiece that continues to mesmerize and beguile us twenty five centuries after its construction.
“The most beautiful Hilton in the world”, Conrad Hilton
The Hilton Athens was part of Hilton’s early wave of international expansion that included the iconic Cavaliere Hilton in Rome. Conrad Hilton himself attended the grand opening in 1963 and declared it to be “the most beautiful Hilton in the world”. Fully renovated ahead of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, the Athens Hilton is a big box property with just over 500 guest rooms and unique daylight filled meeting space for 800 people banquet style and over 1000 theatre style. Located close to the Megaron Convention Centre, the Hilton forms the apex of a triangular cluster of great meetings hotels which include a Crowne Plaza (200 rooms) and the Divani Caravelle (470 rooms). Isabelle Gelée, Director of International Sales for Hilton Worldwide along with Eva Batzaki, Director of Sales at the hotel hosted a special evening event for us on the spectacular rooftop terrace of the hotel providing exquisite bubbles, posh nosh and an unforgettable, magical sunset over the Acropolis. If Carlsberg did functions …
The 2Ps and The Golden Boy
Patrick and I took advantage of some quality time with The Golden Boy over a lovely dinner in Plaka, the buzzy ancient neighbourhood of the city, located at the base of the Acropolis. We ate at Taverna Tou Psara, recommended by our friend and colleague, Angela Kipling, and enjoyed simple food on the rooftop terrace, the Parthenon lit up and visible to one side, the low lit twisting lanes of Plaka to the other. It was one of those moments when you realise how outrageously privileged and fortunate you are to work in an industry which takes you to special places and connects you with special people like The Golden Boy, a veritable Oracle, dispensing wisdom with insightful yet humble generosity.
The Athenaeum Intercontinental
The Athenaeum Intercontinental was a gracious host throughout our almost week long meetings there. Located on the opposite side of the Acropolis to the Hilton, this too is a big box property with meetings facilities for up to 1300 banquet style and almost 550 very spacious guestrooms. The lobby area is an impressive multi-level structure with striking contemporary art installations currently featuring the work of Brazilian brothers, Humberto and Fernando Campana. Our lunches and coffee breaks were excitedly anticipated each day and rave reviews were passed by word of mouth for the hotel’s own Greek Yogurt served with local honey and walnuts. Service throughout was intuitively efficient without being obtrusive. Prior to our evening at the beach we were treated by Alexandra Papaioannou and the sales team at the hotel to cocktails and canapés at The Première Restaurant & Lounge, the signature dining rooftop restaurant which looks directly onto the Acropolis.
Athens, Greece has infrastructure and assets that make it “must consider” option for international business meetings, incentive travel experiences, conferences and events. Prices today are decidedly affordable – although the bar prices at the Hilton and Intercontinental are no different from any global 5 star property – and the quality and uniqueness of the destination experience meet any expectations.
My faith in technology is waning fast as Google returns more results for Athens Georgia than Athens Greece and Trip Advisor declines to list Athens among the Top 25 destinations in the world!
Padraic Gilligan would like to thank his MCI and Ovation colleagues – particularly Dev Sharma, Karine Buggy and Aoife Delaney – who worked hard to make the MCI GSLS and the Ovation Summit so successful and Angela Kipling and team at Kipling Events, Greece for all their creative and practical input around this and previous MCI events in Athens.