Mediterranean Incentives Greece: Reliving the Olympic ideal

New on the block

Greece used to be a difficult destination to sell to UK clients, according to Choice Group managing director Tim Ball. But in the afterglow of the Olympics, Athens in particular has been looked on more favourably. "People have really bought into it and you just have to look at the quality of hotels such as the Hilton, which used to be a monstrosity, but is now a beautiful venue," he says.

The Astir Palace Beach Resort is a complex of three hotels set on the Saronic Gulf in Vouliagmeni. In June, it was taken over by Starwood Hotels & Resorts, the group behind properties such as the Grand Bretagne in Athens and the Blue Palace Resort & Spa in Crete. The resort's 162-room Nafsika Hotel has been renamed The Westin Athens, while the 123-room Arion Resort, now part of Starwood's Luxury Collection, is undergoing a refurbishment that will see 76 villas and a spa open in 2007.

Incentive ideas

Although the future use of the Athens Olympic sites is yet to be determined, Principal Promotions director Panos Fragakis says the stadium, swimming pool and arenas currently make ideal venues for group activities and product launches.

As well as the obvious activities themed around the Olympic games, Destinations Unlimited suggests adrenaline junkies go bungee-jumping over the Corinth Canal or take a submarine ride. The Atlantis Santorini I dives 30 metres down into the depths of Santorini's Caldera and can carry 25 people.

"For a special day, we recommend sailing to Hydra using private Ferretti 225 motor yachts," suggests Christina Anastasopoulou, director of sales at DMC Alvia. Groups depart from a marina in Athens and sail for two-and-a-half hours. On arrival in Hydra delegates take a donkey ride - the only available means of transport on the island - through narrow, cobbled streets, followed by lunch in one of the tavernas in the harbour.

Places to party

Anastasopoulou says one of the most popular event venues in Athens is the Byzantine Estate. The estate houses Christian Orthodox art and artefacts and can host up to 1,000 guests in its five halls. She also suggests hosting a gala dinner or drinks at the Zappeion. The building hosted the first modern Olympics in 1896 and is located next to the National Garden just off Syntagma Square.

Groups looking to take advantage of the coastal setting could host events at Vouliagmeni Lake, which is fed by hot springs said to have healing powers. Vive Mar, a 40-minute drive from Athens, is an elegant bar and restaurant on the seafront. The C Club next to the restaurant can be hired for cocktail receptions. Akrotiri is a club and restaurant that can seat 300 for dinner and up to 3,500 for receptions.

Coming soon

Demos Lytras, C&I executive at the Greek National Tourist Office, points out that many hotels and venues underwent refurbishments in the run-up to the Olympic Games, so there are few developments taking place at present.

However, the third property at the Astir Palace Beach Resort, the 165-room Aphrodite Hotel, begins a refurbishment this month that will see it upgraded to become the W Athens for a 2008 opening. Principal Promotions' Fragakis says the 471-room Divani Caravel, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World consortium, is continuing its renovation programme.

Recent clients

Accountancy firm Moore Stephens and management consultants McKinsey are among the companies to have hosted events at the Astir Palace Beach Resort, while Vista Travel has previously worked with The Daily Mail, Unilever and Diageo.

Verdict

Elle Events director Joanna Minchella says: "We took a group to Crete last month and it was extremely good value for money, and is probably even better than Athens as it has a more intimate, traditional feel. It also has a wide range of four and five-star properties, such as the Elounda Bay, which is perfect for smaller, top-end incentive groups. I think islands such as Mykonos are even more geared up for the incentive market and while getting to them may be a bit of an issue now, I believe there are changes to be made in that area soon."

GREECE DIRECTORY
Greek National Tourism Organisation 4 Conduit Street, London W1S 2DJ
Contact: Makis Peppas
Tel: 020 7495 9300
Email: info@gnto.co.uk
Web www.gnto.co.uk

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