Do major international events have an effect? Are results achieved? Is the effort worth it? A first report from 8th UNWTO International Meeting on Silk Road Tourism in Thessaloniki, Greece on 10-12 October 2018 from my own perspective.
Hello, my name is Kai Markus Xiong, a 45 year old German with a Chinese name.
As a father and husband I am also keynote speaker and ultrathlete. My strength is to help people achieve their goals – even if the situation seems hopeless. In 2017, I made myself this call and ran as a cultural bridge from Hamburg in Germany to Shanghai in China. 12000 km along the Silk Road through 8 countries ….
Today you read in my blog about the experiences at 8th UNWTO International Meeting on Silk Road Tourism in Thessaloniki, Greece and my in-depth conclusion about whether such events are worthwhile and necessary …
The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the Ministry of Tourism of Greece and the Region of Central Macedonia partnered together to organize the 8th UNWTO International Meeting on Silk Road Tourism in Thessaloniki, Greece on 10-12 October 2018.
This international Silk Road meeting was hosted for the very first time by a European Silk Road Member State.
Is there any result at all on such international big meetings?
A question which is asked often by my clients or international companies.
Bring it to the point: I firmly believe that meetings of this kind at this level are not only fruitful for the development of tourism, but also a setting of social development and another building block for the preservation of peace in the world. In order to shed some light on this, I describe my personal experiences as a participant and speaker on this event.
Who are the participants and goals
First, it is important for you to know that I was not the typical participant of this circle. As an athlete and activist who traveled by bicycle over 12 countries over a distance of 6300 km I was certainly the exotic. I was invited by the UNWTO directly to report about my experiences „runmysilkroad.com“ 12000 km cultural marathon along the Silk Road.
So to speak, an insight into the Silk Roads practice of a traveling and activist.
Usually, government agencies such as representatives of tourism ministries and the private and academic sector in addition of international organizations like WorldBank or UNESCO meet here. To discusses the problems, challenges and opportunities of sustainable tourism development.
SDG´s at this event?
At the same time, however, support for achieving the goals of the so-called 17 SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) is taken into account. More about this you can find here:
Program of the event
My focus is on the building blocks of the meeting, and it is particularly important to mention that all parts of the event were important and, in my view, the program’s composition contributed to its effectiveness and success.
We arrived at 9th October in Thessaloniki and as i said i arrived by bike – after 6300 km in sport clothes and on a saddle it was quite unreal to wear a suit, dressed for conference and prepare to sit in a conference. But when i arrived at the hotel the faces are like frozen. 5 Star hotels not expect sweating athlete, naughty park his bike at the place normally is reserved for big SUV´s and sports cars and say confident: „There supposed to be a reservation for my name!“
The reply: „You sure you have a reservation here?“ hahaha i know this situation good enough. Out of the box and into the reality. After a short discussion the lady at the reception found my name and was happy to see I’m invited by UNWTO. But we not finished. I want to know where to „park“ my bike. All places they show me are not suitable for me. The bike is not mine and as i have to return it to my supporter i want ensure its with me as much as possible. So i require to bring it to my room. This was too much. A longer discussion starts but finally the hotel and the management are very kind and flexible and allowed me to bring it to the 5th floor. Nothing bad with this situation – it just shows the need of training if you want develop a new path of tourism like the cyclists. Different clients – different needs. Summarized my stay there was pretty well and i feel welcomed.
Silk Road Ministerial Round table
On Wednesday, 10 October at Thessaloniki Concert Hall it starts with a Silk Road Ministerial Round table “The Silk Road within a globalized tourism framework: tourism priorities, regional development plans and the role of the historic routes”. Participants are Tourism Ministers and Heads of National Tourism Administrations from the Silk Road Member States, representatives of International Organizations like WorldBank or UNESCO and leading representatives from the private sector.
Focused on assessing the geopolitical potential of the Silk Road, with a special emphasis placed on its role as a transnational tourism route.
Signing of a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding)
Signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between UNWTO and the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki to strength the work on tourism at a academic level.
This part was not so exciting for me. It shows, however, that results in such events also require a longer preparation. But why only then the signing of the MOU?
Quite simply – even international organizations and institutions need attention to receive further support. Therefore, the signing of such MOU’s is quite propitious means for this.
Greece and the Silk Road
Than, from 12:45 – 13:15 Mr. Alexandros Thanos, Deputy Governor for Tourism and Culture, Region of Central Macedonia explained the role of „Greece and the Silk Road“ Followed by Dr. Stella Kostopoulou, Associate Professor, Head of the European Interdisciplinary Silk Road Tourism Centre, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece and Ms. Themis Panagiotopoulou, Head, Tourism Promotion and Planning Department, Greek National Tourism Organization (GNTO)
However, since I did not know or have studied the role of Greece in relation to the Silk Road, like many others, this part was not only exciting but also enabled me to think about concrete solutions to upcoming problems. For example, the mass tourism on the beaches and how the regions in the interior of the country can participate in tourism boom.
No lunch for me…
I participate at this event to do my job to make the report on my cultural marathon as exciting and inspiring as possible, but also to influence and build a network.
Therefore, it is not surprising that I completely lost sight of lunch in order to meet interesting people like Dr. Ahmed Eiweida of the World Bank to entertain. During our conversations that day and the day after i realized that the fight against poverty is not just due to its job at the World Bank but is a matter of the heart for him. And besides that he is a amazing hobby photographer and person. At this moment i reduced some of my own prejudice about finance and banks – even i worked for so many years in finance and banks myself. The idea of world bank and people like Ahmed is a different story and I’m appreciate to learn new things about the needs of such institutions.
Luckily I am used by my two initiatives often get along without food and still be in a good mood.
The same time i meet a friend who helped me in the background of my running initiative in russia. Together with a big running association based in Moscow i get such an amazing support all around my route in russia. Even one of my sponsors who visit me in volgograd changed their mind about russia once they realized the real life. I was in so many places, meet rich and poor people, educated and not educated ones. And i have to say: it´s worth to travel there!
We never meet in person but now was the time – it was really great and i was so thankful to meet him. Russia was a country i had a lot of bad thoughts, influenced by one-sided media coverage. But after running almost one month, meet hundreds of people and share my experience with many Russians but also learn about their culture i started to like this country.
When I say that, be sure I’m not naive. I just learned that in every country in the world there is nothing positive or negative. But differentiating this helps to reduce aggressiveness and make people ready for discussions and solutions. What we should heed in the education of children we should bring in the everyday life of the policy also more often to validity. Then we would be able to solve many conflicts faster and more sustainably. Therefore, it was particularly good to see that here at the congress Russians and Ukrainians worked together on solutions, liked each other and laughed together. And this on a governmental and private sector level.
Panel sessions 1 and 2 – my part is coming
From 15:00 to 16:30, the panel session 1 was ongoing, and hereby my part. I was not really excited. Had I been able to give sufficient lectures and presentations for the last 15 years? Of course, my experience at the various universities and institutions during my project gave me more composure. But the absolute advantage for me was the following:
- i could tell a story
- the story is beyond expectations of the audience
- and I’m the only one who could talk about such a long distance of the silk road
- I had pre-rented a video presentation with music and speakers in the film
With that I had the attention on my part, because I was able to differentiate myself from the usual PPT’s and I was one of the few speakers who could stick to their timing. My video is just then when my time limit is over. A trick that I also use in other lectures – I always convert my PPT’s or Keynotes into videos, so it gets more exciting, I keep the timetable and the timelines are met.
It was a great opportunity for me – in the lecture were very emotional moments and these provided me with the Bike Tour good starting points for the audience about sports and how running and cycling work as a cultural bridge.
Especially all the feedbacks after my speech encourages me – so many hand shakes and pat taps, so many personalized feedback and positive resonance – just like form Dr. Ahmed Eiweida – World Bank
„… I got inspired by you, your vision, kindness, love to humanity and respect to our rich culture identities globally. Your achievement is truly outstanding and inspirational for generations to come. … Continue on running„
But i was not the only one at this panel, my other colleague speakers are:
- Mr. Peter DeBrine, Senior Project Officer, Sustainable Tourism, UNESCO World Heritage Centre,
- Dr. Ahmed Eiweida, Global Coordinator for Cultural Heritage & Sustainable Tourism, World Bank,
- Mr. Robert Travers, UNWTO Expert: “The 21st Century Maritime Silk Road: tourism opportunities and impacts”
- Ms. Katerina Mouzouraki, Communications Manager, Trans Adriatic Pipeline, Greece
- Mr. Kai Markus Xiong, Extreme Athlete and Activist, “Run My Silk Road”
- Mr. Nikolaus Lohmann, CEO, Earth TV
Especially the lectures of the UNESCO, World Bank and Earth TV had interested me – here I could learn a lot new but also see the far-reaching consequences of tourism. It’s just more than the travel industry. Through Earth TV, I rediscovered the idea of the „Window to the World“ and also see a possibility here, people who do not want to travel or can participate in the interesting and beautiful places in the world.
The coffee break i used again to have some unique conversations – for instant with the Deputy Prime Minster of the Republik of Uzbekistan. One of my favorite countries on my Silk Road Run.
The 2nd panel (17:00 – 18:30) sounded just as interesting, but I was stuck in the conversation outside the conference room. And so I could only attend the lecture of Dr. Joseph M. Cheer from Australia and Prof. Dimitrios Buhalis.
However, this brought me all the more to think about. Resilience
- Dr. Joseph M. Cheer, Lecturer, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia – Destination Resilience
- Ms. Irini Sidiropoulou, Sales Manager North Greece & Ionian Islands, Aegean Airlines
- Mr. Andrew Aley, Head, Experience Businesses – Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA), TripAdvisor
- Ms. Voula Patoulidou, President, Thessaloniki Tourism Organization
- Ms. Helene Lloyd, Director, TMI Consultancy
- Ms. Maria Founta, Head of Marketing in CEE, Google
- Prof. Dimitrios Buhalis, Head, Department of Tourism and Hospitality, Faculty of Management, Bournemouth University
Concert at the Rotunda World Heritage
As usual at such meetings, the cultural part can not be missing. We had the chance to experience a very exclusive concert in the Rotunda. Incidentally, the Rotunda is also one of UNESCO’s World Heritage and has cast a spell over me.
We got this chance after the official meetings.
The question that often comes up is: Does it have to be, it only costs money again!?.
Yes, it has to be! That’s at least my own opinion, which I also like to justify.
For one thing, the expatriate cities / countries are often busy weeks if not months. This enormous effort is worthy of appreciation. What can be done better than a large group of international decision-makers to show their own culture. The participants are only human – but these people also have Facebook, Instagram or Wechat and Weibo, Telegram and other social media channels. Only with usually a little more following. Therefore, it is a great advantage if a country or a region may present itself in such a way – with it in very beautiful way thousands, hundred thousands or even millions humans are reached. Not to mention the reporting in the respective home countries.
On the other hand, it is a learning by doing. I was able to observe the participants closely and often saw a notebook or mobile phone in which ideas and suggestions from the performances for their own country were noted. I think there are reasons more, but I think these two are already valid enough.
Long day ends with a nice dinner
As a conclusion to a busy first day there was a delicious dinner in the port of Thessaloniki and for me it was already a home feeling.
The people I met on the tour from the coast to Thessaloniki, the encounters in the city itself and then this congress. Just great.
Of course, there are also individual topics I can imagine that could be optimized and improved. But my way of doing things is basically to mention the positive public and to name the potential for improvement directly to the organizers and partners, which I have done. Here, too, I can only say that the response to my feedback was just as positive as the whole first day.
Tired and slain, missing the 6,300 km in the bones and my family, I went to bed at 2:30 am after closing sessions.
the 2nd day – to continue
To make it short – the agenda of the second and third day you can see at the Programme.
My highlights were next to a business breakfast for networking, of course, again the panel sessions. But a special conversation with Mr. Alexandros Thanos, Deputy Governor for Tourism and Culture, Region of Central Macedonia, had done more to me then.
We talked about the development opportunities of Thessaloniki in tourism and the situation that many tourists know Greece only as a water park or perhaps for hiking. Since I arrived now by bike, but in principle rather runner I introduced him to me the chairman of the Thessaloniki marathon Christina Karamichou and George Nanos of Outline Adventures.
The possibilities of running in Thessaloniki and surroundings I will describe once again separately in my blog „youshouldrunhere.com“. But being at the birth of the development of bike tourism in a region is also special to me as a business development specialist. For this I will also once again write an article that you will then read here.
Another great encounter was with Father Christodoulos (Χριστόδουλος Παπακώστας) and Dimitra Georgitsi. Town twinning with young people together as a running-bike project, developing new ideas for the integration of refugees and linking social commitment with modern ideas. This will be your own story here, but so much anticipated: the power I felt here was enormously contagious and motivating.
My own initiative had suddenly become even more meaningful – a great affirmation that many can be inspired and infect.
Conclusion of the entry question…
Yes, I am convinced of this format and this type of meeting as I experienced it is important. In brief, the Günden adds:
1. the exchange of the industry
Government agencies and the private sector can discuss problems and solutions, develop solutions and learn from each other’s best practices
2. Development of new areas
The participants were able to deal with new topics that were not known to everyone. This leads to an improvement of one’s own status and multilateral connections
3. Prejudices are dismantled
This format, in which so many countries were represented, gave the opportunity to perceive from their own perspective what is happening „elsewhere“. Critical discussions and lively exchange led to an open and constructive basis away from the political or business daily routine.
4. Initiatives are encouraged
By the participation of initiators like myself, the practical relevance and the connection to the actual object – in this case the tourist is held. We not only feel confirmed, we can also help shape it. This leads to a higher satisfaction and a constant improvement.
5. Sustainability is encouraged
The best practice and flagship projects strongly promote the sustainability of the industry. There was a real pull to recognize – who has better and more concrete ideas to deliver? What can others learn from it? And how is the industry continuing to develop?
Of course, all of this is only possible with stringent preparation, consideration for everyone involved and a well thought-out format like this.
coming next – 2nd International Congress on World Civilizations and Historic Routes
In the end, I was completely flashed when I was invited as a keynote speaker for the 2nd International Congress on World Civilizations and Historic Routes in Sofia / Bulgaria on 15-16.11.2018.
So I’m sitting here today and I’ll start preparing for the next chance right after this report.
Kai Markus Xiong – key-note speaker – Moderator – Trainer