The new touristic profile of the Greek city of Thessaloniki includes a number of foreign tourists more than double, new airline connections with 34 Russian cities, daily flights from and to Istanbul, attempted opening to China’s market, as well as the city’s professionals who are learning Russian.
Visitors from Russia, Turkey, Israel and the Balkans are arriving massively in a city that is changing and obtaining a more extrovert, attractive, modern and cosmopolitan image.
“Over the last years, an intense effort to attract foreign tourists has been made, in a very methodical and organized way,” Stefanos Chatzimanolis, Vice-President of the Association of Travel Agencies of Macedonia and Thrace said. He noted that today Thessaloniki counts 75,000 overnight stays compared to 46,000 in 2012. Some years ago this number was at 10,000.
Buses with tourists from Turkey arrive on a daily basis in Thessaloniki, as Kemal Ataturk and Nazim Hikmet were born there. There are also many Ottoman monuments in the city that attract Turkish tourists, as reported by Chatzimanolis.
“Now there is a policy on tourism,” Spyros Pengas, Consultant of Tourism and International Relations of the Municipality of Thessaloniki, stated. He mentioned that an Info-kiosk has been put in Aristotelous Square, the city’s main square, which functions for the second tourist season.
According to Pengas, Thessaloniki is projected abroad through trips, visits, cultural exchanges, events and collaborations aiming at constituting the city a renowned tourist destination.
Opening to Russia has brought Thessaloniki closer to twinned St. Petersburg. As Pengas said, “The municipality of Thessaloniki, in collaboration with one of the biggest incoming travel agencies, will offer free Russian lessons to the city’s professionals.”
Thessaloniki is also a stepping stone for religious tourism and pilgrimage in the wider area, such as Mount Athos and Meteora, given that Orthodoxy is a bond between Greece, Russia, Bulgaria and Serbia.
The new big bet that Thessaloniki has set, is to conqueror China’s market. “This is a huge market with great prospects,” Pengas said explaining that in cooperation with Turkish Airlines, they are making contacts with five Chinese journalists so that they will visit Thessaloniki, get informed and write about it.
Pengas said that in the past, Thessaloniki was as if it expected no one. The city was oriented at domestic tourism, chiefly at commercial. Today, things have changed and Greeks do not travel a lot.