ATHENS IN NUMBERS: A CITY BREAK DESTINATION

Grammatiki (Emmy) Papazoglou, Head of the Division of Strategic Planning, Resilience, Innovation and Documentation, City of Athens.

Correspondence: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Elissavet Bargianni, Landscape Architect, MLA, Resilience & Sustainability Department

Directorate of Strategic Planning, Resilience & Innovation, City of Athens.

Correspondence: e.mpargianni@athens.gr

Abstract: This research article examines tourism policies designed by local government authority and their impact on social and regional development in the municipality of Athens, Attica. In particular, it reflects upon events, changes, and concerns that involve tourism affairs, and evaluates their socioeconomic, political, spatial, and regional dimensions. Considering that the locality is part of the totality, the process of achieving tourism development in Athens is particularly interesting, as it is fundamental to the entire Greek tourism image. The regional element of the area can be also identified as national. Consequently, local tourism development becomes an essential part of national development. This study could trigger a fertile and constructive process of reflection on the role of local tourism policy in further achieving social and economic development. The issues raised by the research contribute to scientific research and dialogue and highlight the role of municipalities as active tourism assets with distinct tourism identities in the context of a Europe of Regions.

Keywords: tourism policy; local green development; local authorities; Athens

 

1. Introduction

Tourism policy is a set of discourses, decisions, and practices driven by governments, sometimes in collaboration with private or social actors, with the intention to achieve diverse objectives related to tourism.[1]

Cultural policy comprises the government activities, laws, and plans that control, protect, inspire, and economically support activities related to the arts and creative sectors, such as painting, sculpture, music, dance, and literature among others, whereas culture may involve activities related to language, heritage, and diversity. Generally, this involves governments putting in place developments, legal classifications, regulations, legislation, and institutions (e.g. museums, libraries, etc.) that promote and facilitate cultural diversity and creative expressions in a range of art forms and creative activities.

Regarding the role of the European Union (EU) [2], research shows that, mainly in the economic field, the EU complements state tourism policy. It also provides the legal framework, guidelines, and know-how, so that culture can be part of any sector of policy-making processes (mainstreaming), which is apparent in the municipality of Athens. When designing policies and support instruments at all levels, account must be taken of the particular role that tourism can play in regional and local development [3–4]. Further effort could also be made in achieving the absorption of EU funds. The studies of the impact of the tourism sector on education and creativity, mobility, economy, intercultural dialogue, foreign policy, regional dimension, and various other subjects supported by the European Commission are also important [5].

As Bianchini reports [6], the cultural and tourism resources of a place incorporate the following elements: arts and media activities and foundations; the cultures of youth, ethnic minorities, and other 'communities of interest', including local festivals and other celebratory events; the tangible and intangible heritage, including archaeology, gastronomy, local history, dialects, and rituals; the local ‘image bank’, which is defined in detail below; the natural and built environment, including public and open spaces; the diversity and quality of places where people entertain, including marketplaces, clubs, cafés, and restaurants; local institutions for academic and scientific novelty, including universities and private sector research centers; the repertoire of local products, skills, manufacturing techniques, and services [7].

It is important to classify and build on characteristic local cultural and tourism capitals for effective place branding and marketing, given that no place can be focused on just 'one product' [8,9]. A city, for example, is a multipart and multi-faceted unit [10].

Local culture can become a significant asset for the country's promotion [11], aiming at the social development of its inhabitants [12]. Successful tourism planning can also be of a developmental nature [13], utilizing the comparative advantages and characteristics of each region, shaping a local cultural identity. The development of grassroot and social movements raise new kinds of cultural demands, and present the need to familiarize with the social and economic transformations [14].

It is true that economic change affects different cities and regions in various ways [15]. However, many city decision makers understood the development of tourism policies as an appreciated tool [16] in expanding the local economic base [17]. They gave priority to expanding economic sectors, such as leisure, tourism, the media, and other “cultural industries” [18].

For this reason, research into tourism and the collection and processing of tourism data must be a policy priority at a local, regional, national, and supranational level [19]. In fact, achieving successful tourism policy is becoming increasingly important [20] as a component of strategies for economic and physical regeneration in many Western European cities, as in Greece. Plans of tourism activities have proven to be an important asset for tourism managers.

These activities were based on the needs of local communities and the management of their tourism capital. More studies of the tourism policies, positions, and attitudes of local authorities need to be conducted, and these will act as foundations for development through tourism [21]. Also, they will contribute to the better understanding of the relationship between tourism policy, urban regeneration, and economic growth [22].

This paper explores the process of tourism development at the local level using as a case study the municipality of Athens (more details in Unit 2. The City of Athens). Qualitative and quantitative analytical tools were used for the empirical research. Thus, it was possible to examine sustainable tourism development as well as the means of tourism activities.

 Also it was possible to study the tourism policies of the municipality of Athens and to analyze tourism policies and action tools generating socioeconomic benefits. We capitalised on the European experience and paradigms of the best practices of successful municipalities.

Through an investigation of this area, a large number of features (land uses, policies, etc.) are gathered and analyzed, so that a complex issue such as tourism planning can be explored. The conclusions reached (Unit 5) confirm that the tourism policy of local authorities is a dynamic factor.

 

2. The City of Athens

Since local authorities are an important agent of cultural policy, the social, economic, cultural and tourism profile of the center of Greece, in particular the city of Athens in Attica, is investigated. Surrounded by a lining of stunning seas and mountains, Athens is filled with treasures just waiting to be discovered. Located at the crossroads of three continents, the capital of Greece with an overall population of close to four million has often been the hub of many cultures. Characterized by a culture and people that are welcoming and hospitable, every visitor just feels at home.

The plan used in the analysis is a "flexible" research project that was developed during the collection of the data. It began as a project based on qualitative data, and in the process, it incorporated the collection of quantitative data as well. Starting from the local level, the research developed in multiple, interrelated fields.

A framework for evaluating the significance of tourism policy of the municipality of Athens and an assessment of its impact on local development is provided.                         

In order to measure Athens as a city break destination an empirical research was conducted drew primary and secondary data. Therefore, the research was based on data collection from the municipality of Athens and other bodies. Some sources of information came from the internet, on websites describing best municipal tourism policy practices. At the same time, through the literature review, the structured knowledge for research issues, which is mentioned in books, magazines, and in the press has been examined. Data was also collected from EU institutions, university libraries, as well as from the archives of tourism operators.

 The theoretical framework of this study is based on empirical research conducted in the city. Athens is the capital of Greece that bears various multicultural features, but has a central position in the prefecture, which enables it to develop networks with adjacent regions and strengthen its tourism presence, making it an active tourism player. The historical, geographical, social, etc. features render Athens an ideal region for research purposes.

Given that culture is the compilation of all aspects of social life from a symbolic point of view, the recording of the cultural profile of the municipality of Athens, with the infrastructure, events, and institutions that have developed over the years, is based on a critical perception of these factors, with particular emphasis on the impact of culture on the city's environment and tlourism. The key element in achieving sustainable development, which will influence the quality of life of the municipality of Athens, is culture and tourism combined with the natural, social, and economic growth of available resources.

 

3. Athens: a City break destination     

City break destination is the special form of tourism that differentiates itself from the mainstream model of mass tourism (sun and sea). The main characteristic is touring around the cities for a short period of stays (2-5 days) [23]. Athens is ranked on the top 10 city break destinations [24].

This can be justified because of the important city’s cultural heritage, like the dozens of archaeological sites and monuments of international importance in the city centre which constitute it the greatest archaeological city park in Europe. Additionally, byzantine and modern monuments, Plaka listed neighborhood, museums of international reputation and easy accessibility to other archaeological sites close by for a day trip (Sounio, Mycenae, Corinth, Epidaurus, Delphi) make Athens an important touristic pole. Each year, more and more travelers are choosing Athens for their leisure and business travel all year round. There are several reasons; Athens offers a variety of things to see and do, and most of the times, under favorable weather conditions [25]. In 2012, the City had 2,5 million arrivals while this number almost doubled in 5 years and increased to 4,8 million arrivals in 2017. In 2018, there were 5,6 million arrivals, while in 2019 they reached 6,4 million (2019), 12% increase from 2018. Also, there were 1 million arrivals from 576 cruise ships without overnights in the city (2017). The average money visitors spent in 2018 and 2019 was 116 euros/visitor/day and 115 euros/visitor/day accordingly. The economy growth was 2,2% in 2019 and the expected growth for 2020 was estimated at 2,3%, before the pandemic outbreak [24].

Athens was awarded an Emerging Cultural City of the Year 2017 by the Leading Culture Destination Awards. Also, it was awarded as Europe’s Leading City Break Destination 2018 by the World Travel Awards. The Athens Convention and Visitor Bureau of Athens was the Top European City Tourism Office 2018. In addition, the city was ranked on the Top10 most attractive destination for organising conferences with more than 3.500 participants in conferences in 2019 equivalent to 9 million euros benefit.

 In reference to culture infrastructure and activities, Athens offers many places like Stavros Niarchos Foundation, Megaron Moussikis, Onassis Stegi, Galleries and Art places, Theaters and festivals- Operas (Athens festival- National Opera) are some of them. Another main element is entertainment infrastructure, which includes Concert areas, music stages, bars and night clubs in the city centre and specific areas such as Psirri and Metaxourgeio. More suburban entertainment infrastructure completes the variability of activities near by the city (e.g., Spata zoo park, Adventure Park in Malakassa). In addition to all above, Athens has a sufficient number of conference centers and exhibition centers like Megaron the Athens Convert Hall, Athens Metropolitan Expo, hotel Athens Convention and Visitor Bureau. It is estimated that 2/3 of conferences in Greece take place in Athens.

Most hotels in Athens underwent extensive renovation in preparation of the 2004 Olympic Games, a great benefit for contemporary visitors that can enjoy comfortable and stylish accommodation combined with outstanding services [25]. Athens provides a wide variety of renovated accommodation with hotels of all categories, 647 hotels in the Prefecture (2017), 230 hotels (with 15.187 rooms) in the Central Sector of the Prefecture and there are more hotels opening in the centre of Athens [26]. As for food services, there are plenty of restaurants and tavernas around all the 7 Municipal Districts with traditional, modern Greek and international cuisine, that can offer high gastronomy meals. Although tourists don’t prioritize the shopping, Athens offers many markets and shopping malls like Syntagma (e.g., Ermou) and Kolonaki.

Furthermore, a factor that is driving Athens' destination popularity is the increasing number of international carriers that fly into its new and award-winning airport, easily connecting Athens to the rest of the world [25]. The proximity to the Peiraeus port and Rafina ports, which connect the islands with the mainland, puts Athens in a strategic place for national and worldwide visitors. The high level of transportations like highways and train lines and the public means of transport like metro, tram, suburban railway, buses -trolleys facilitate the movement of tourists.

  According to the 15thTouristic and Satisfaction Survey and Performance [24] for the satisfaction of tourists and hotel performance in 2019, 80% of visitors felt there are more things to see in Athens, 87% of visitors want to return and 96% of visitors would recommend Athens as a destination, although the environmental state of the city in cleaning, greening, noise pollution, air pollution and condition of urban spaces, squares and pavements did not satisfy them. In addition, visitors did not feel that were connected with locals and the way of their living. This probably has to do with the great reduction of permanent population over the years [28] which has tendencies for further reductions in the near future taking also into account that one of the most important elements that make Athens attractive to tourists is people’s behaviour which is friendly [27].

       The element that makes Athens unique is the lively neighborhoods and communities even though it is a capital megacity. The most famous Athenian neighbourhood of Plaka is a top attraction for visitors. Picturesque streets, historic landmarks, lively shops and big crowds are some of things that can easily be found in Plaka. The old town (Figures 1, 2) is located around the northern and eastern slopes of the Acropolis and constitutes its historic center known for its typical architecture.

    

            Figure 3.Historic Neighborhood of Plaka [29]

      The heart of modern Greece beats in the historic centre of Athens.  The landmark Acropolis Museum (Figure 4) and the pedestrian walkway of D. Aeropagitou linking the city’s ancient monuments has seen this historic neighbourhood emerge as one of Athens’ most fashionable neighbourhoods.

 

                        Athens' Acropolis Museum Reopens to the World

      

 

 

 

 

 

Figure 4. Acropolis Museum [30]

    Just beyond the stunning promenade ringing the Acropolis, Thissio and Petralona are two neighbourhoods that offer an intriguing mix of classical splendour, cafe culture, and community spirit. On the other hand, no other neighbourhood in Athens has seen such sweeping changes in recent years like Gazi and Kerameikos. But this grungy district of edgy galleries, hip bars, and ancient wonders is still on the cusp of gentrification. Another paradigm of important neighbourhood is Monastiraki where the layers of history intersect at the city’s hub of commerce and craftsmanship. Moreover, behind the glamour of high heels, high-end boutiques, and sun-glassed locals sipping on iced coffees, Kolonaki area is no stranger to history and culture.

  

               Figure 5. Omonia and its landmark Square [31]

     Nowadays, Athens is a modern cosmopolitan and multicultural city that is rich in history, traditions and customs, and is the cultural center of Greece.

 

Visitors of Archaeological Places

 

Acropolis-Theater of Dionysus

3.593.586

Ancient market

741.820

Olympiaio

494.944

Hadrian’s Library

327.187

Roman market

308.640

Keramikos

125.904

Aristotle Lyceum archaeological site

63.609

Total

5.655.690

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 1. Visitors of Archaeological Places [32]

 

Revenue of Archaeological Places (euro)

 

Acropolis-Theater of Dionysus

49.691.070

Ancient market

2.373.286

Olympiaio

3.449.413

Hadrian’s Library

969.582

Roman market

571.317

Keramikos

205.558

Aristotle Lyceum archaeological site

61.663

Total

57.321.889

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 2. Revenue of Archaeological Places (euro) [32]

Visitors of the Museums

 

Acropolis

1.755.435

National Archaeological Museum

608.876

Benaki Museum

212.328

Byzantine and Christian Museum

55.761

National History Museum

38.616

Monetary of Athens

19.539

National Gallery

16.444

Museum of modern Greek culture

10.865

Canellopoulou Museum

7.881

Epigraphic Museum of Athens

7.140

Total

2.732.876

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 3. Visitors of the Museums [32]

 

Revenue Of the Museums (euro)

 

Acropolis

9.379.505

National Archaeological Museum

3.021.070

Benaki Museum

796.162

Byzantine and Christian Museum

198.415

National History Museum

32.429

Monetary of Athens

30.257

National Gallery

10.271

Museum of modern Greek culture

8.207

Canellopoulou Museum

6.874

Epigraphic Museum of Athens

4.108

Total

13.487.298

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Table 4. Revenue of the Museums (euro) [32]

 

3. Results

Athens has a long tradition of cultural and tourism activities that take place with the cooperation of several sectors: the municipality; the administrative region of Attica; the ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Tourism and other cultural and tourism institutions.

However, as Europe and especially Greece have gone through not only an economic, but also a cultural and tourism crisis, both of these have contributed to an increase in social instability and economic insecurity [33]. The Greek crisis began on a global basis with broader economic upheavals and led to the country falling under international financial control [34]. This crisis has affected every area of tourism development, as new needs and new challenges have emerged [35].

  

This study helps to understand and develop an actual, fully integrated tourism policy [36]. According to the results, we reached the following conclusions for in Athens in the following figures (Figures 5,6).

Figure 5.Successful tourism policy: Synergies.

 

The municipality of Athens, although displaying a multicultural character with different ethnic groups living in its suburban areas, exhibits significant elements of harmonious coexistence [37]. Citizens as a whole respond positively to the development of local policies and constantly demand the best for the city and their interests.

Tourism’s role in development actions in Athens is an ideal example of the above citation. The tourism sector of the city has a direct impact on economic growth and social development. It is a fact that the tourism actors produce revenues, employment, and other economic profits, while at the same time, they create development. In this and several other ways, tourism can be taken not just as an enabler, but also as a driver of development procedures.

Figure 6. Development procedures.

 

The study provides a historical, economic, sociocultural, and political contextualization for tourism policy-making in the city of Athens. Moreover, it highlights the growing use of tourism policy to achieve the regeneration of cities in Greece. Still, nowadays, the cultural features of each region are becoming increasingly apparent. Some cultural institutions of Athens are under direct and indirect pressure to preserve, study, and highlight these particularities on the one hand, but also to be open to other cultural phenomena and units. Besides, art brings together different cultural identities. All these elements constitute Athens a pole of attraction.

 

4. Discussion

In the present article, the focus was on how the implementation of successful cultural and touristic policies can enhance local development, using as a case study a multicultural city of Greece, the capital city, Athens.

The empirical research of the present paper is original and constitutes a case study that investigates the cultural and tourism policy of the municipality of Athens as a factor in regional and social development [38]. The structure that connects the supranational–central with the local cultural fields, as well as the dialectical relationship between the past and the present in cultural events, characterizes the research. The study took advantage of the relevant good practices implemented elsewhere and especially in European cities such as Bilbao, Glasgow, Montpellier, etc.

In the light of the above aspects, the role of the local authority was studied, focusing on social and regional development. The question under consideration was whether tourism actions in Athens create synergies, or whether they are part of an overall development strategy, a vision, in combination with other actions. In particular, it was investigated whether specific tourism policies were able to activate other sectors of the economy.

Therefore, the state can play a role at the local level and intervene whenever necessary to save and promote tourism infrastructures, strengthen and foster institutions, and promote tourism through educational programs [39]. The municipality can disengage from state financial support when the responsibilities and resources are transferred within the context of a successful decentralization [40].

At the same time, the research in Athens revealed that economic, institutional, administrative, and organizational problems can only be addressed if municipalities plan tourism activities in a strategic manner, study the internal and external environment, and secure financial resources. The contribution of specialized tourism executives and inspiring managers [41] that are trained and aware of the present situation, who will lead these activities, is of critical importance.

 

5. Conclusions

This paper focused on the role of local authorities in achieving cultural and touristic development. In order to investigate the added value of this policy, the present study in the municipality of Athens in Attica was carried out as an attempt to: Study good practices from areas that have already successfully implemented such policies; and formulate, based on this kind of policy, an integrated approach for the tourism development in the region of Attica. The experience obtained from the research conducted draws interesting conclusions about the potential of the implementation of cultural and tourism policy in Greece, especially nowadays under the circumstances of financial instability. More specifically:

The tourism development has also as a target the sustainable local development: the attractiveness of the city. Therefore, the municipality can be the meeting place for all efforts to promote social development and progress at the local and the regional level, provided that there is an appropriate institutional framework for the implementation of cultural and tourism projects and similar actions that will lead in turn to corresponding socioeconomic benefits, and could also act as an antidote to the crisis. Therefore, there is a need for an organized development framework, and the systematic study of their economic, social, political, and cultural supply is essential [42].

In order to achieve successful cultural and tourism policy, the European experience needs to be taken into account in order for sustainable development to be promoted and citizens and tourists to be attracted to the city. Applying good practices means learning through the experience of other cities in Greece or abroad. Besides, another important tool in achieving the goal of tourism development is the implementation of a consistent organized state cultural policy, based on the European experience.

As far as the present paper is concerned, it could trigger a fertile and constructive process of reflection on the role of local tourism policy in further achieving social and regional development. The issues raised here can contribute both to scientific research and dialogue, and also highlight the role of the municipalities in their capacity as active tourism assets in the context of a Europe of regions.

Funding: This research received no external funding.

Conflicts of Interest: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

 

 

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