The concepts of sustainable development, innovation and experience, in the context of the ever-changing global travel market conditions that affect Greek tourism were developed at the annual conference of SETE which was held in Athens entitled “Redefining Realities:#someREACT different”.
The conference opened with an interactive discussion between the President of SETE, Yiannis Retsos and Paul Papadimitriou, founder of Intelligencr, an innovation researcher and specialist on future strategies.
Yannis Retsos referred to the ever-changing conditions in the world travel market and the urgent need to adapt Greek tourism to those new developments. As he pointed out, “Now this is a time of great change for Greek tourism”
“The image of the future must focus on the maturity of the destination, which is linked to sustainable development, innovation, technology, culture and sustainable tourism. In this process, it is useful to look at already successful models and adopt, where needed , international best practices. “
Regarding the case of Thomas Cook, he said that “it is a fact that should concern us and make us think how to diversify our selling channels. Referring to Greece’s main tourism product “sun & sea”, a product which has made Greece renowned all over the world, Retsos said that it must be maintained and taken a step further. “This product must never be abandoned, as this is what we have to ‘sell’ and what the world knows us for. But we need to enrich it for it to gain many other dimensions,” he said, adding that the country’s gastronomy and culture must be included. “We also have the most important element that our foreign visitors recognize and reward us for: the human factor,” Retsos underlined, citing a recent INSETE study that found that tourists in Greece seek to socialize with locals, seeing it as an experience during their holiday. “We have to incorporate all this into our main product – sun & sea… We need to compose the product and target the right markets,” he said. In any case, tourism cannot operate on an autopilot. For the next day, both strategic direction & immediate action are needed.
The need for Greece to rethink its culture of tourism was the main issue pointed out by Paul Papadimitriou. “A shift in behavior and, more importantly, in values of the customer has been sparking here and there for a few years, now accelerating’, he claimed suggesting that Greece should revise the development culture of tourism – blending ancient heritage with modern elements, thereby highlighting its uniqueness.”
The basic conclusions per session and per speaker are as follows:
1st Session: Brave New World
Patrik Gustavsson, CEO of “The Amager Bakke Foundation”, pointed out that: “There is a lot of pressure today for greener infrastructure. Copenhill, artificial ski slope and recreational hiking area, built on top of the new waste management centre, is turning into a modern landmark symbolizing Copenhagen’s attempt to be the world’s first climate-neutral capital. This kind of combination – without discounts on the safety of citizens and visitors – is an example of hedonistic sustainability & is now possible thanks to modern technology.”
Steve Vranakis, having worked with digital, design and advertising companies around the world and having helped to create one of the top digital technology studios – the Google Creative Lab, focused on bringing technology and creativity together. Mr Vranakis, who recently took over as Chief Creative Officer at the Prime Minister’s Office, as a special adviser to the Prime Minister, Kyriakos Mitsotakis, pointed out that “The crisis that our country went through during the previous years was long-lasting and we must motivate Greeks who went abroad to return to their home country. We invest so much on educating our children just to help them to go abroad and get jobs in major overseas organizations, whilst we live in a country that has great potential. I want to encourage more professionals to return to Greece, following my example, to see the new emerging opportunities”.
David Rowan, Founding Editor-in-chief of WIRED UK (2008-2017), reported on innovation and technological trends. As he put it, “Innovation relates to the business core, its aim and its ability to adapt new technology to new customer requirements so as to keep serving that aim. This mentality must be fueled throughout the company by the leadership team”.
2nd session: Observing Destinations
Alejandro Barrera, Founder & Chief Editor of “The Aleph Report”, referred to the particular travel features of the Millennial generation tourists. In his speech, he noted that “Millenials travel to find answers. Looking for verified authenticity, they use technology for decision making in order to build their experience. They want to support local economies at -their favorite- underdeveloped destinations”.
Douglas Quinby, Cofounder and CEO of “Arival” underlined the fact that “Experiences, the things travelers do when they get there, are what drive travel. Transportation and accommodation are the enablers, the “how,” of travel. Tours, activities, attractions… these are the “why.” To capture and captivate the next generation of travelers, we as industry, and destination marketers in particular, must shift our focus from the industry to the customer, from the “how” to the “why.”
Petra Stušek, Managing Director of Ljubljana Tourism mentioned that “Global social, economic, political environments, digitalization, affordable prices, climate changes have impacted all industries around the world, including the tourism sector. Ljubljana used to be the hidden gem, but in the past decade it is not hidden any more. It remained gem, but is facing due to popularity some challenges. Switching to renewable sources, using new technology innovations to disperse visitors, closing city center for traffic, planning zero waste and making it accessible to all is helping us achieving sustainable development. And most of all, not excessively annoyed locals.”
Catharina Fischer, Digital Marketing Strategist, consultant of the network Tourismuszukunft, analyzed the ways of acquiring digital culture, arguing that “Tourism (destination) marketing is in constant transition over the last years. On the one hand we have on-going changes in travel needs and behaviors and on the other hand we have dominant global platforms and a constant evolving technology. If we still just talking about marketing strategies we will fail the need to rethink & reshape business models as well as organizational structures. In order to cope with a constant changing environment – including climate change – we need optimal conditions to think differently and infrastructures and governments enabling that.”
Tia Hallanoro, Director Brand Communications & Digital Development of Helsinki Marketing, pointed out that “Sustainability is the biggest disruptor the travel industry will ever face. In Helsinki, we believe that every service provider is ready for improvement – and this is why we wish to offer tools and a platform for each individual and every company to function even more sustainably. Use your platform for action and don’t shy away from unlikely alliances. Radical collaboration is the way to solve problems that are too big for anyone to solve independently.”
3rd Session: Time Machine
Dianne McGrath, Sustainable development specialist and “Mars One” astronaut candidate, analyzed issues related to food systems sustainability & Zero Waste. As she pointed out: “There will be no waste on Mars. Survival relies on 100% sustainability. To achieve this ‘waste’ is redefined as a valuable resource; and how we REACT to the inevitable challenges determines our future. In reality, this is no different here on Earth. “
Steve Lowy, Head of TOPOSOPHY UK, CEO of Anglo Educational Services and founder and manager of Umi Digital, noted that “The Hotel Industry of the future has to challenge itself to be relevant. Using technology to enhance the experience rather than remove people will be powerful and will allow hotels to maximize time on what they are best at … looking after customer with an amazing hospitality experience»
Ted Papakostas, archaeologist, mentioned among others, that “Today stories from our past were narrated with storytelling techniques. If we showcase our cultural resources in a creative and modern way, we can captivate travelers. That is why we must be include this concept in our priorities as part of actions to meet the demands of modern travelers. After all, Greece mainly “produces” culture and tourism and their creative interconnection is imperative
Besides the main program of the conference, participants had the opportunity to attend two masterclasses. In one of them, Catharina Fischer presented alternative ways of approaching the German market through digital tools. In the other, David Bizer, founder and CEO of Talent Fountain, he shared hands-on experience of how an employer becomes a brand by attracting the most talented employees. In this context, he emphasized that “talented executives choose the business where they will make a career and make a difference. It is crucial to show these potential candidates that all this and much more is possible in your business. Of course, a good employer reputation requires investment and strategic management.”
During of the conference, a “Tech Alley” exhibition was open, dedicated to Greek start-ups, which were given the opportunity to present technological services and products to entrepreneurs and executives of the Greek tourism market.
The conference was held in collaboration with TOPOSOPHY, a destination management / promotion and special events consultant company, and ”weareJARVIS”, the content studio of “Found.ation” innovation and digital transformation agency.