ATHENS – With nearly 1,000 female business executives converging here for the Global Summit of Women 2012, most of the talk was about opportunities for their companies, schmoozing with each other to broaden networks, and how to expand outreach to other countries, including Greece, but many said they found a little time to visit the city and other parts of the country nearby and said it differed markedly from their expectations that they would find riots and destitution.
“The perception is that it is very troubled,” Michelle Hoobyer-Winklar, the Minister of Economic Affairs for the island of Aruba, a popular tourist destination off the coast of Venezuela told Greek Reporter on the sidelines of one of the many seminars that were being conducted. “You can see that it’s struggling, with all the empty shops, but what surprised me was to see a lot of people who are positive. It’s still a thriving city,” she said. She recommended that Greece do as Aruba has. With the U.S. market growing flat, she said her country has expanded its reach and is trying to lure visitors from other parts of the world, particularly Europe. “The biggest challenge is to put out a positive message to potential tourists that Greece is still the most unique experience tourism-wise,” she added.
Sarah Choane, an official with the Department of Trade and Industry for South Africa, said she was delighted at what she saw, apart from the obvious effects of the economic crisis, and that she was enjoying her stay. “It’s a wonderful city, it’s so historic. People are warm,” she said, perhaps the result of the famous philoxenia, treating visitors with hospitality. She said she was struck by the deep sense of history. “It’s been around for so many years,” she marveled. Her colleague, Marienne Jacobs, said she was awestruck at some of the historic sights. “Just standing on the ground is an emotional experience,” she said.
While for many of the women the conference provided their first visit to Greece, Filiz Odabas-Geldiay, Executive Director of the International Association For Human Values in Washington, D.C. said she had come many times because she’s a native of Turkey. Still, she said, “I learned a lot during this conference,” where many Greek officials and lawyers and NGO representatives were present to talk about the crisis and business opportunities. “Because Greece is so beautiful it’s hard to balance with so much of the negativity,” that’s being presented she said, the constant images of protests, strikes and riots against austerity measures demanded by international lenders in return for $325 billion in two bailout loans to prop up the essentially dead economy.
Masako Arakabe, President of Qualia, Inc., a diversity and incusion strategies company based in Osaka, Japan, said she expected to see more troubling sights because of what is shown of Greece on television in Japan. “We see so many demonstrations,” she said, the frequent images including Molotov Cocktail-tossing anarchists tussling with riot police in Syntagma Square outside the Parliament. Her colleague, Kayo Imamura, a General Manager with Panasonic in Osaka, said she too was struck by the symmetry of history but added, “I see so many buildings under construction and we see the news about Greece and the economic crisis.”
Maria Vouidaski, a public relations official with the Greek National Tourist Organization (GNTO) in Athens, was kept busy passing bags with maps, promotional materials and other information about Greece and said she didn’t hear a negative word from any of the women, who included a number of CEO’s and other high-ranking officials of major companies along with those who owned their own smaller businesses. “They were asking what they could see in two or three days and we tell them Greece is beautiful to explore,” she added. “It’s not just Greece, the crisis is all over Europe,” she added. “They are afraid a little bit but then they see that Athens is a safe city.”