IN 1985, PRESIDENT REAGAN WARNED AMERICANS NOT TO TRAVEL TO GREECE. PLANES CARRYING TOURISTS STOPPED MID-AIR! SO WE RECRUITED 39 CELEBS (OF NON-GREEK LINEAGE) TO TELL AMERICA THAT THEY WERE “GOING HOME...TO GREECE!”
This was mission impossible. We were up against international terrorism and the White House. That summer, skyjacking and hostage-taking in the Middle East had become rampant, and President Reagan put the last nail in the coffin when he warned Americans in a news conference to stay clear of the Athens airport. The tourism that Greece relied on vanished. Hotels were empty, cruise ships were being beached, and nobody was dancing in the aisles of Olympic Airways, TWA or the isles of the Aegean. A miracle was needed – a miracle that can happen, through the power of The Big Idea. As a proud Greek American, Zeus struck me with his lightning bolt when the Greek National Tourist Organization begged me to somehow contain this terminal damage to tourism to their homeland.
The Big Idea: I’m going home...to Greece! But instead of recruiting famous Hellenic-American celebs such as Telly Savalas, Jimmy the Greek or Olympia Dukakis, I made a 180° turn from the obvious, and went after Americans of non-Greek ancestry, who were “going home to Greece,” the birthplace of democracy, “where it all began.” We offered free flights to a celebrity and his family (on empty planes), free hotel stays (in empty hotels), free passage through the Greek isles (on empty ships). Celebrities lined up in droves. Their obvious delight in their surprising destination was a sublime assurance of a safe trip. Our commercials were picked up by the networks and ran gratis as newsbreaks, demonstrating how Greece was fighting terrorism by dramatizing how famous Americans would not kowtow to the terrorists! Olympic and TWA flights filled to capacity. The Greek economy enjoyed a landslide tourist season, their most glorious ever. (Creativity can solve any problem. The creative act, the defeat of habit by originality, overcomes everything. I believe that.)