“We are targeting high-end American tourists and we will find them in right the heart of Manhattan where they work,” says Leonidas Babanis, the man behind ‘Greek Panorama‘, the tourism and gastronomy fair that is due to open in New York’s Grand Central Station in a few short weeks.
Drawing on a decade of experience participating in and organizing tourism fairs, Babanis spoke about the demands of the ‘difficult’ American market and gave us a sneak peek at what New Yorkers will experience when they visit Greek Panorama exhibition in May.
The exhibition is being organized by Hellas North American Events, a subsidiary of North Events Ltd and will take place in the Vanderbilt Hall of New York’s Grand Central Station on May 12-13.
Usually when we hear about Greek tourism trade shows we think of tables with brochures and mini Greek flags. What are you doing differently?
What you describe, the small table with brochures waiting for some hand to come by and pick them up was one of the reasons that 10 years ago we got involved in the world of international trade shows, first as participants and subsequently as organizers. Setting up a Greek gastronomy stall does not mean putting out a plate of meatballs, sticking flags into them and giving them out to passersby.
We recently organized a food talk in Sweden where we invited chefs from Greece, Spain and Italy to discuss their experiences and ‘secrets’ in front of an audience. The concept is important, particularly when you are addressing experienced and cosmopolitan New Yorkers. An exhibition should not be a presentation, it should be an experience.
As they walk around, visitors to Greek Panorama will sip Assyrtiko wine, they will try a piece of gourmet cheese, and having tasted Greek wines and food products, they will put on a pair of virtual reality goggles in our virtual reality area. With these they will travel to Thessaloniki and the Acropolis.
Tell us about the exhibition in New York. Why is it so important?
Greek Panorama is the first exhibition exclusively about Greece that is taking place in New York. For the first time Grand Central Station in Manhattan, the US’s biggest station, which is also one of the busiest worldwide, will host an exhibition about Greek tourism and gastronomy.
In the Vanderbilt Hall there will be 44 kiosks and a dedicated area for food and wine tasting so that visitors will be able to taste traditional Greek food products and wines that are already available in the US. We are currently sorting out the last details of the cultural events that will run in parallel with the exhibition.
Beforehand on May 11, professional networking events will take place regarding tourism in Kellari Manhattan, a restaurant and event space where the Greek exhibitors will have the opportunity to exchange views with foreign tour operators and high-profile Greek-American businesspeople.
Why has a tourism fair dedicated to Greece not taken place until now in New York?
The US market is not an easy one. To approach it one needs significant experience, good planning and technical know-how and it is an especially expensive and complex undertaking if one takes into account the volume of visitors and buyers it attracts. We are opening up to the US market building on a decade of experience in Europe – particularly in the Scandinavian markets and the up-and-coming huge market of Poland where we are active. Behind the New York exhibition there is a team that has been designing the strategy for five years with extensive market research.
To go from the initial decision to its implementation takes time. Consider that it was three years ago that we applied to do this year’s exhibition. We have taken risks – we have already pre-paid in cash whereas in Greece, as usual we will be paid after at least 5 months.
What sort of people are you hoping to reach?
The space we have chosen gives the answer to that question. The mean annual income in Manhattan exceeds 100,000 dollars for 50% of its residents. Meanwhile according to the station’s official statistics the 350,000 workers in the area have a purchasing power of over 11 billion dollars per year. The figures speak for themselves.
We are aiming at wealthier American tourists and we will find them right in the heart of Manhattan where they work. Our goal is also to attract third generation Greek Americans, people who don’t know Greece well but carry a piece of it with them. The love of the Greek diaspora for the country is a catalyst for this exhibition. It will turn it into a celebration of Hellenism.
What side of Greece are you looking to highlight? And what sort of products?
In terms of products what stand out are olive oil and olives, Greek feta cheese, yoghurt which has taken the American market by storm and wine. We will help companies that are already active there to build on their Greek identity.
The areas that we are focusing on are Attica, the Cyclades, the Dodecanese, the Peloponnese, Crete and Northern Greece. We want to show all those things that are still well-kept secrets such as wine tourism, gastronomic tourism, Greek hospitality and high-end accommodation.
One kiosk will be dedicated to weddings on Mykonos and Santorini. The keyword is authenticity: other countries also have sun and sea – we don’t have a monopoly on those. The authentic side of Greece is our treasure.
What will follow the exhibition? Will it be a one-off event or will there be some form of continuity?
The term ‘one-off’ does not exist in our philosophy. We have already scheduled the next exhibition to take place in the USA – it will be in November 2017 and will focus on exportable Greek products. We want our exhibitions to be talked about for years as happened in the past with Grekland Panorama and the subsequent Mediterranean Panorama which were very positively received in Stockholm. As was the Grecka Panorama in Warsaw.
To coincide with Greek Panorama we will issue a magazine about Greece and we had also invested significantly in the hub gogreecenow.com. Part of our strategy is to continually look for new opportunities in the tourism market.
Which other countries would you like to ‘conquer’?
The countries and markets that we will be focusing on in 2018-2020 are Canada, Denmark, Romania, Ukraine and Serbia. Additionally we are investing in the area of virtual reality. Our ultimate goal is to prove that Greece has exceptional services and products. We are the vehicle that assists business and organizations to promote their services and products. As a country we are capable of miracles.
*This interview was first published by Kathimerini on 2/4/2017