Thessaloniki: A Tourism Destination—and Gateway

MAR-APR 2017|BY RAYMOND MATERA
Paraskevi (Voula) Patoulidou, Vice Governor of the Region of Central Macedonia—Metropolitan Area of Thessaloniki, talks to Business Partners about Thessaloniki as a tourist destination.

Please provide us with a brief insight into the tourism profile of Thessaloniki.

Thessaloniki is still the favorite destination among Greeks for food, fun, shopping, relaxation, studying and business. And, its identity as a city break destination has been growing rapidly over the last ten years. Balkan tourists and other Europeans from countries with direct flight connections are the main markets. Its multicultural past and strategic location make Thessaloniki the gateway for the greater area of Central Macedonia and are the extra assets we focus on promoting. There are also many stories, myths and legends that invite tourists to explore Thessaloniki. Alexander the Great, his step-sister Thessaloniki, Aristotle and Olympus are just a few.

Is there an effort to develop alternative forms of tourism, such as medical, spa, sports, religious, agro and the like?

Developing alternative forms of tourism is essential for the enrichment of the tourist market. Our first step was to record those features that enhance the image of Thessaloniki as a destination and then focus on developing specific areas that could add value. Alternative tourism areas we focus on are, first, those that already have an infrastructure and the professionals or organizations to support them—such as festival, religious, sports, business and gastronomical tourism—yet lack organized promotion. Our next moves will be in alternative tourism fields in which we need to coordinate public and private entities to further create the product and then promote—such as medical and accessible tourism.

How is the Perifereia promoting high, value added tourism?

Our efforts are concentrated in both developing and maintaining high-quality environmental and facilities standards. For example, regarding the environment, the Perifereia oversees water quality for beaches, lakes, rivers, and wetlands so they are part of certified European networks.

Regarding hospitality facilities, we cooperate with the organizations that set and certify standards, such as GNTO, ISO, and others.

And the Perifereia supports and finances projects that promote the area’s high value-added tourism products.

What is the potential for luxury brands and services in the region?

There are two ways to view developments. We prefer seeing the economic crisis as an opportunity to allure more investment from luxury brands and services in the region, since we offer low operating expenses and staff costs.

Thessaloniki, in the past, hosted luxury brands such as Hyatt and Kempinski. Even though some have departed, the high quality service standards have been maintained, and this makes the region a very hospitable place to invest in this field.

What technological applications in the tourism sector does your office believe are necessary in today’s digital, social media age?

A destination portal with its app is necessary for the tourist sector. Applications dedicated to alternative tourism routes, transportation, events, networking and cultural promotion are also essential for today’s tourist. A Virtual Reality Cardboard App is the new trend in promoting a destination that could be adjusted also for guided tours of museums and monuments. And robust Social Media channels, developed by all stakeholders, can further promote our tourist products and enhance our destination.

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