Having been beleaguered by several years of economic turmoil, occasional social disquiet and a stream of seemingly intractable political dilemmas, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to assume that the MICE and tourism industries of Greece might have taken a considerable pummelling. However, in its first full year of having a convention bureau in place, the northern city of Thessaloniki is proud to be able to relay that in fact the opposite is the case and the MICE scene in the city has not only remained healthy, but has been steadily growing and improving.
“Greece’s national meeting industry, represented by the Hellenic Association of PCOs and the Athens and Thessaloniki convention bureaus, has moved to reassure international conference organisers that meetings will go ahead as planned, despite the huge uncertainty about the country’s economic future, and overall there haven’t been cancellations,” said Efi Koudeli, General Manager of the Thessaloniki Convention Bureau (TCB). “We also continued with our strategy of participating in international MICE shows and representing Thessaloniki and its members and creating awareness at the national level of the importance of the development of MICE.”
Greek heroes of our time
While Greece groans beneath the weight of the debt crisis, most Greeks remain buoyant – especially in Thessaloniki, an ancient port that is now a buzzing creative center. We pay a visit to a city that is crafting its own future.
No city in Greece is as much a symbol of hope for a better future as Thessaloniki. The country is suffering from sanctions and austerity measures, but right here, startups are popping out of the ground like mushrooms beside design firms and delicatessen factories, hiprestaurants and action groups. In these desperate times, the people of Thessaloniki, indeed people throughout much of Macedonia, are boldly following their own ideas – and putting them into practise. Of course poverty and unemployment exist here. “But we don’t take it as hard as the Athenians,” explains one taxi driver, who sets some of his sparse earnings aside to pay for his daugher’s piano lessons, “and we seek solutions.”
While Alexis Tspiras [sic], Greece's new prime minister is busy renegotiating his country's debt to the European Union, almost every other Greek resident is spending the hot summer days doing what they have always done best, welcoming travelers to the Greek Islands, Athens and Thessaloniki. Yes, Thessaloniki. Located about 300 miles north ofAthens not far from the borders of Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia and Albania, Thessaloniki is Greece's second-largest city and capital of the country s northern Macedonia region. With a city population of 363,000 and an additional 170,000 living in the hilly suburban districts north of the city and the sun-drenched towns along the Aegean Sea to the south, Thessaloniki offers a slice of Greek life quite distinct from Athens or the islands.
A five- to six-hour trip by car,4.5 hours by express train or 50 minutes by air from Athens, Thessaloniki offers a great add-on destination for leisure or business travelers who want to trade the summer heat and mass tourism scene at the Acropolis and Parthenon for the cooler hills, less crowded ruins and more intriguing nightlife. Around 315 B.C., King Cassander of Macedon founded the city and named it after his wife, Thessaloniki, a half-sister of Alexander the Great. Today, so many early Christian and Byzantine structures still stand in Thessaloniki that UNESCO named 15 of them World Heritage sites; and the city's historic architecture, fine art and archaeology museums, stunning seafront promenade and lively theater and music scene led to its designation as European City of Culture in 1997.
A bolt of Greece lightning
Thessaloniki’s sparkling harbor is almost empty—a good thing. It remains one of the last urban seafronts in southern Europe not hemmed in by a giant marina. Instead, wooden caïques still ply the quiet bay while footpaths trace the meandering waterfront of Greece’s second largest city, some 320 miles north—and a world away—from chaotic Athens.