Athens – the Olympic city – Part 2

Spending on refurbishment

To encourage midmarket and budget hotels to improve the quality of their properties, the government has offered g300 ([pounds sterling]214) per room for refurbishment. At the top end, the Grande Bretagne, perhaps Athens’s most renowned hotel, has spent $70m ([pounds sterling]42.8m) on a total refurbishment, including the addition of a spa and rooftop restaurant. The five-star Hilton was closed for 15 months for a $96m ([pounds sterling]58.7m) extension and refurbishment, while the 543-bedroom InterContinental has also carried out extensive renovation, including the refurbishment of all public areas.

Athens is fighting an uphill battle, however. The city is not a traditional tourist destination, with most visitors just passing through on their way to the islands. Greece has also suffered the same malaise as the rest of the world due to recent global events. The war in Iraq and consequent anti-war protests in Athens reduced tourism even more after the USA issued a warning against visits to the country.

Many of the city’s hoteliers feel that Athens has a potential for tourism as yet unrecognized, and indeed unsupported, by the government. A long-awaited convention center has been promised post-games, which should provide a boost to the local hotel market. “The Greek individual market does not sustain five-star hotels,” says Koth at the InterContinental. “Only 23% of our clientele are Greek, while more than 75% are international or groups.”

Currently, the meetings market provides only about 3% of total room night demand in the city. Most feel it’s an undeveloped opportunity, as is the short-break market. Traditionally, the Greek islands dominate the country’s tourism, but many hoteliers in the city feel that with budget airlines and the new airport, short breaks are a frustrated opportunity that needs to be satisfied.

Whether Athens will harness the potential of the games and create a legacy that will build both the city’s reputation and tourism for the future remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome, the world will be watching.

Vital statistics

The Olympic Games 2004

The first documented Olympic Games were in 776BC. They were held in Olympia, after which they were named. The Modern Olympic Games were revived in Athens in 1896.

  • When: 13-29 August
  • What: 28 sports and 301 medal ceremonies
  • Where: 38 Olympic venues
  • Who: 10,500 athletes and 5,500 team officials, 199 national Olympic committees, 45,000 volunteers, 21,600 media representatives, four billion TV viewers, 5.3 million ticketed spectators and more than 45,000 security personnel
  • How much: 68% of tickets (3.6 million) will cost up to g30 ([pounds sterling]21.60). The average ticket price of g35 ([pounds sterling]25.20) is 34% cheaper than at the Sydney Olympics in 2000.
  • The Paralympic Games 2004
  • When: 17-28 September
  • What: 19 sports and about 500 medal ceremonies
  • Where: 21 Olympic venues
  • Who: 4,000 athletes, 2,000 team officials, 128 national Paralympic committees, 15,000 volunteers and 3,000 media representatives

The Grande Bretagne

Constitution Square, 105 63 Athens, Greece

The Grande Bretagne is the grande dame of Athens hotels, but it’s only this year that it has retaken its place among the world’s most prestigious and well-respected properties.

Following some years of neglect by previous operators, the now 327-bedroom hotel was closed from November 2001 to March 2003 for a $70m ([pounds sterling]42.8m) restoration and refurbishment.

The transformation is dramatic. After gutting the entire building, the hotel is now a shrine to the kind of opulent luxury London’s Dorchester would envy. Curtains are heavy, tables gifted and doorways are as high and wide as one would expect from a former palace. The interiors don’t shy away from dramatic patterns and bold colors – particularly red and gold.

On entering the hotel, guests are confronted with a slick reception desk, huge vases of fresh flowers and elegant and accommodating waitresses in black cocktail dresses slashed to the thigh. A pianist plays every night to the kind of crowd who like to be seen, and while the hotel’s spa and rooftop restaurant have yet to open, the extent of media attention (three television crews covered the opening) and local patronage to date indicate demand will be high.
A new management contract has been agreed by owners Lamps Greek Hotels Company and CIGA Hotels Greece, a subsidiary of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide. The Grande Bretagne will be marketed as part of Starwood’s Luxury Collection brand for the next 25 years.

 

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