They are so passionate about Athens that they came really close to convincing the city’s foe – me, that is. So, they are obviously doing a great job with the people they host in their apartments.
For about a year now, ‘Live in Athens’ have joined the ‘club’ of Greek hospitality, introducing an idea which is totally new to Greece: the short-stay apartments. They operate four fully furnished apartments in downtown Athens: two in the area of Thissio and another two in Monastiraki.
I first talked to them a few weeks ago, but they were busy working on their new additions, the apartments in Monastiraki. Now that these were ready – and already occupied – it was time for me to meet the guys behind the venture: Andreas, Andonis, Vassilis and Varnavas.
The four members of the group came across this hospitality concept while travelling in Europe. Two years ago, with the crisis having driven them to unemployment, Andonis and Andreas were talking about potential business projects. Then the idea of short-stay apartments came up.
‘We had no money or jobs, but we had the idea’, say Andonis. ‘This is the mistake that many people make. They have a good idea, but they do not take it to the next level because they fear the lack of money. We began to work on the idea, to process it and see if it was feasible. It took quite some time, but we did finally find the money and found jobs too and everything went smoothly. There’s no such thing like ‘we have no money’. The greatest enemy of a good idea is the laziness, not the lack of money.’
The guys talk with excitement about their guests (none of us could refer to them as ‘clients’). They say that people who choose to stay at their apartments are generally open-minded travelers: Young ones, newlyweds, families and groups of friends who are not looking for a soul-less hotel, but for a comfy place to stay. A ‘home away from home’ as the saying goes.
Normally, the boys become friends with many of their guests. Varnavas explains: ‘many guests invite us over for dinner or we take them out for a drink. We keep in touch with them after they leave and some have invited us to their countries.’
Vassilis remembers the case of a woman, from Northern Europe: ‘She left and when she landed back home she called me, not just to say ‘thank you’ but to say that she had arrived safely.’ Just as if she was talking to an old friend or a relative.
The hospitality offered by ‘Live in Athens’ is remarkable because it is based on the guys’ own travelling experience and expectations. ‘When we travel abroad, we don’t have anyone to show us round. We miss that, so we want to be close to our own guests. We give people tips, we tell them where to eat, where to go for a decent drink’. Andreas adds: ‘We recommend things and places that we really like. We want our guests to see this city through our eyes.’
The discussion got even more interesting when we began to talk about Athens. I mentioned that I do not love this city and that I consider it ugly. They rushed to change my mind! ‘Athens is like a very beautiful woman, dressed in rags. Even its ugliest buildings are a part of its history. And they’re not so ugly as they are neglected’ says Andonis.
Vassilis thinks that ‘Athens is more than attractive, because it’s got everything in a reasonable distance. In less than an hour you can go to the mountains, to the beach, to have a nice drink or dinner, to visit museums and archaeological sites. In which other city can you do all those things?’
They all admit that Athens has its ills, but strongly believe that it’s up to the Athenians to make it more beautiful. ‘If Athenians loved their city, it would definitely be a better place. And, fortunately, there are quite a few good initiatives out there. People have taken action and I think we’re moving to the right direction.’
And what about the infamous image of Greece? ‘There are still people who think that Greece is at war. That there are riots in the streets and that there’s a food shortage. But they quickly realize that this is anything but true’ says Varnavas. ‘There is an improvement in the way foreigners see Greece. We see it in all the people who come here and are proven wrong.’
Lately, there’s been much talk about the branding of Greece and the things we must do in order to build anew the confidence and the derelict prestige of our country. As far as tourism is concerned, the answer lies in initiatives like ‘Live in Athens’. Loud campaigns are, mostly, an extravagant display, which does not always correspond to reality. Things are simple: visitors want to feel like home. Andreas, Andonis, Vassilis, and Varnavas can guarantee this exact thing.