Travel around the world. Most of the times, meet and greet comes with a big smile. But when smile dominates serious talks with an experienced practitioner about travel and tourism, a logical assumption can be made. The career path implies a combination of talent and passion.
This was also the case, directly confirmed when we first met with Georgia Leonardou, Director of Sales at Helios Hotels & Resorts [www.helioshotels.gr]. Throughout our discussions, every action and interaction blended glasses of wine with positive vibes for future plans. Some of them are hopefully trasmitted through the 4Ps to travel with, sharing stopovers in Kenya and Bali, travel dreams connecting memories from Europe, Africa and Asia. Turkey, Czech Republic, Switzerland, Greek Islands, Jakarta, Borneo and Java are now calling all fellow travellers. Let’s go!
tvv: Born or become hospitable? | Γεννιέσαι ή γίνεσαι φιλόξενος;
G.L.: In this wonderful country that we live and come from, I would say that it is extremely difficult to avoid any basic ‘training’ into being hospitable. In Ancient Greece, hospitality was considered to be a virtue. Hospitality had an important social power, as it could connect individuals of any class e.g. ordinary citizens with royal families. In this sense, hospitality is deeply embedded in Greek citizen’s DNA; as they grow they gain knowledge from their family and social environment on how to become better hosts and welcome guests. In modern Greece, hospitality adopted significant professional characteristics, is offered through various forms, provided that training is a sine qua non. Therefore, in the case of Greece, it is a combination of both; born and become hospitable.
tvv: The most hospitable encounter experienced. | Ό,τι πιο φιλόξενο έζησα.
G.L.: Any hospitality experience characterised by authenticity, truth and love is nothing but unique. From my early age, I had the chance to travel in various countries of different culture, customs and ethics. I find ti really hard to to distinguish the one and only experience; but, I cannot forget those smiling people in Bali and children’s faces in Kenya. If I do have to characterise a memory as unique, this would certainly be the happiness of the children in Africa, who so lovingly opened their hugs to thank us for the simple gifts that we, foreign visitors from the West, offered. By offering so little, you end up with the most precious gift; children’s smile! It was a truly unforgettable hospitality and powerful life lesson!
tvv: An outline of Greek voyager’s current identity. | Η ταυτότητα του σύγχρονου Έλληνα ταξιδευτή.
G.L.: Current Greek traveller is very different from the one representing previous generations. Very familiar with technology, latest generations are looking for higher quality. In search for value for money services, technology has contributed the most. Travelling as an individual or within groups, Greek travellers know what they are looking for, respect local customs, but also appreciate the incomparable beauty the country offers (needless to say that this is always the case during their summer holidays).
tvv: The performance of Greece on the world travel map. | Η πορεία της Ελλάδας στον παγκόσμιο ταξιδιωτικό χάρτη.
G.L.: For the time being, Greece has taken the lead in the traditional markets of Western and Eastern Europe. Due to recent political developments in the broader Mediterranean region (Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia) and the wider variety offered in accommodation services and destination choices, Greece has managed to rank among the top 3 selections of European tourists over the last three years 2015-2017. It is also included in the map of world travel destinations for foreign tourists coming from America, East Asia and India; it will take time to showcase the country’s benefits in such a way that Greece, as a destination, will be able to attract more visitors from these continents. Since we are talking about huge markets, all players in the tourism market, the industry and the state have to respond quickly to the major challenge of the steady increase of travels from Asia in the upcoming years.
G.L.: Having spent more than 20 years of ongoing professional and personal travel to various destinations around the world, to me, journeys are more than priceless. Travelling is a way of life, it’s freedom, spiritual development, social and of course personal development. My personal motivation to get involved with tourism was the meaning of voyage. My suggestions for a unique trip could be various; what makes a trip unique is our passion for travel, the willingness to learn and know about new things and the level of integration into the local community (depending on the trip duration). Let me add that quality accommodation is also important, as a distinct experience and part of a trip, however, it does not fulfill the multirole and multipurpose of the voyage per se.
G.L.: What always fascinated me was the discovery of different destinations from European ones and the acquaintance with a new way of life. So, I decided to travel to Indonesia; it was something new to me – an experience much different from the places I had visited so far. The unknown, the adventure, the acquisition of knowledge are concepts related to the selection of the places I always intend to visit.
Tropical, unpredictable, different, hospitable, bustling but also calm, simple and luxurious, primitive but also modern depending on your geographical position on the island. Jakarta, Java, Borneo and the exotic cosmopolitcan Bali form together and apart the puzzle of great Indonesia.
G.L.: Throughout my professional career, I came across and was inspired by several people. I must admit that I was alwasy motivated by colleagues expressing their passion with their job, sharing their vision. The list never ends; from a dear colleague, tour guide , specialist in Latin America, who was planning something new on every trip to the historical figure of Melina Merkouri – what to say about Melina, ambassador of Greece to the world? Passion and vision really motivate me and still accompany me with my associates.
G.L.: The dominant trend for all forms of travelling, either through large tour operators or individually, is online management. The vast majority of tourists and travel agencies manage their bookings via online international agencies and digital channels (OTA, B2B agencies). Major tour operators tend to follow this direction both because of the adoption of new technologies and for time-saving benefits. Still, we will have to adapt and be trained to manage more sophisticated forms of online sales. Many Greek tourism entrepreneurs have already realised true digital potential and are already investing in this field, according to their needs.
tvv: Milestones along my way. | Σταθμοί στη μέχρι σήμερα πορεία μου.
G.L.: Strange as it may sound, my love for travel is the main source for my career pathway in tourism. Travelling abroad from a very early age and studying foreing languages have been a significant milestone for my later progress. I started as a tour guide abroad, then worked in congress and travel agencies, and for several years I have been sales executive in the hotel sector. For the last 9 years, I have been Director of Sales at Helios Hotels and Resorts, responsible for the 4 hotels of the group (Nafplia Palace, Amphitryon, Kalimera Kriti & Kernos Beach).
My engagement with various tourism fields contributed to my multifaceted understanding of the needs and the recognition of high-quality services both in the hospitality sector, where I have been working many years, and in organising a travel package. My interaction with various nationalities gave me the suitable skills to understand and meet the needs of foreign visitors alike. My training in tourism enhanced my experience; yet, I strongly believe that travel experience and ongoing contact with the tourism industry have played the most decisive role in the course of my career so far.
tvv: Little dreams for trips to come. | Μικρά όνειρα για τα ταξίδια που έρχονται.
G.L: My vision is to be able to offer and share knowledge with tourism professionals to make our country an ideal tourism model, based on tourism infrastructure with high-quality services. And yes, I believe that Greece has so much more to offer to the visitor beyond its well-known and not insignificant attractions such as sea, climate, gastronomy etc.
Closing our short interview, I hope to continue visiting places I have never been, but I am dreaming of; the very same that I wholeheartedly wish to all fellow travelers.
* Special thanks to Marios Stefanis for his valuable contribution to the translation of the original interview