MRH 2018 comes to Athens, a city slowly on the rise
MRH 2018 comes to Athens, a city slowly on the rise
29 OCTOBER 2018 7:30 AM

The 2018 edition of the Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum—17-19 October—left its Spanish origins after three years to move to Athens, Greece, and the conference vastly benefited from shifting 1,700 miles to the east. Here are some highlights.

In its fourth year, the Mediterranean Resort & Hotel Real Estate Forum moved to Athens, Greece, or more correctly, to a delightful seaside suburb called Vouliagmeni, which changed in 2011 to being its own administrative jurisdiction.

The conference’s new home is the hotel Divani Apollon Palace & Thalasso, which has a few shades of a 1980’s hotel-chain legacy brand but is overall a welcoming, comfortable abode.

I very much enjoyed seeing a pair of scales in the bathroom and a real kettle in the sleeping area.

Yes, these two appurtenances might nowadays have been replaced by denial and a Nespresso machine, but I got a certain delight from seeing them in 2018 as I do on the increasingly rare times I get handed a key, not a key card (That last happened in August, by the way.).

I was delighted that directly opposite the hotel is a small Greek Orthodox church, the priest of which told me he started his religious life on the Holy Mountain, known as Mount Athos.

The area no doubt suffered during the Greek economic crisis, but according to my taxi driver not so much. He wants to move there, and who could blame him.

He noted, while we rode along the Saronic Gulf to the hotel from a flying visit to the Parthenon on the Acropolis, Greeks no longer get obsessed with money as so few had any anymore.

Thus followed one of those pointless conversations about differences in minimum wage, monthly rent and transport prices, but he was a nice person who did not even bother switching on the taxi meter.

The MRH conference, I felt, was a success. For the last three years it has been held in Spain, albeit in different locations, but a wholesale leap to a new nation adds sparkle to any event, even if it no doubt changes the event’s budget numbers.

Attendees hailed from Albania, Austria, Azerbaijan, Croatia, Cyprus, Denmark, Egypt, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Luxembourg, Mauritius, Namibian, The Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, United Kingdom, United States and, of course, Greece, so a fantastic sprinkling of Mediterranean, European and global hoteliers.

As is my usual modus operandi following conferences, I add here some asides and comments that will not make it to my coverage on Hotel News Now:

  • Thanos Papasavvas, founder and chief information officer, ABP Invest Ltd., immediately on the conference’s kick-off, during a global and Mediterranean economy overview, gave us the startling news that “China will win any trade war (between it and the U.S.). … President Xi has no time pressures, whereas U.S. presidents are time-constrained”;
  • Not all is good in the U.K. either, Papasavvas said: “It will not be a hard Brexit, but it will not be a soft Brexit. It will be a medium Brexit, that is to say, it will be a fudge. … We might well see delays”;
  • Anthony Leung, group head of corporate finance, Thomas Cook: “Working with Expedia is about working with the best in class,” which might well be how others feel, at least in terms of its colossal size, but I believe few in the industry would want to be put on record as admitting to;
  • Elena Kountoura, minister of tourism, Greece: “Greece now has easy licensing and fast-track bureaucracy. … and Athens has been awarded the top European city-break destination for 2018,” although I rather think there remains some notable hurdles for development and operations in this fine nation;
  • Gregory Lanter, member of the executive committee and chief development and construction officer, Club Med: “3.5 billion people own a toothbrush, but 4 billion own a smart phone. … 60% of millennials are in Asia, and they comprise 40% of the total population, and millennials travel for 35 days a year, which is longer than the famously long vacation allotted to the French”;
  • Jörg Lindner, managing director of German firm 12:18 Investment Management GmbH, and managing partner, Lindner Group: “We have an instagrammable, concave glass wall, which makes everyone look slimmer. … My daughter said, ‘Daddy, the most famous blogger in the world is here!’ Someone I have never heard of”;
  • Lindner also commented “(one of our properties is) financed by Deutsche Bank, which would never finance anything like this in Germany, which is why I go to conferences like this.”

After the conference I headed to the Athenian port of Piraeus for the hour-long ferry ride to the small island of Agistri (a colleague of mine went to another island, Hydra) where I discovered the delightful hotel Rosy’s Little Village.

Simple and memorable, it has only 17 rooms, but they drop down in wonderfully higgledy-piggledy manner down to the water’s edge, where a platform and steps allow for swimming. A larger platform caters to yoga groups, and nine practitioners were doing yoga when I was there, like me enjoying the brilliant sunrise, although, unlike them, I had a coffee in hand.

Agistri has three villages on its north/northeast coast—Megalochori, also known as Milos, Skala and Skliri, where Rosy’s is. The rest of the island is mostly pine forest, and it is beautiful. Right at the bottom, a couple of hours’ walk, is the delightful village of Limenaria where the proprietor of the one restaurant—also simple—is reestablishing the island’s wine industry.

I had been tipped off he makes his own retsina, a white wine flavored with pine resin, which I happen to like. I was thrilled when he sold me a bottle of retsina contained in a spring water bottle.

I even abandoned my usual cabin-luggage-only policy to get it back to London.

Email Terence Baker or find him on Twitter.

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