A healthy company

Interview by Elsa Soimoiri

The CEO of Goldair Handling, Dimitris Papamichail, in an in-depth discussion about the company’s priorities.

Goldair Handling has a strong presence in many airports in Greece as well as Bulgaria and Cyprus, and continues to be the first privately owned ground handling company in the country. With leisure travel now shaped by emotional criteria with travelers seeking memorable rather than consumer-based experiences, can you describe the experience that Goldair Handling offers visitors?

We pioneered by being the first privately owned company in Greece, following the end of the monopoly regime in 1999, whilst also paving the way for Greek ground handling companies to expand overseas. The success of both ventures continues to be based on the quality of services, or if you like, on replacing “process” with “hospitality”, which as Greeks, is our emblematic and traditional characteristic. I will tell you, by way of example, that just 2 years ago (in 2020) we won the international tender for exclusively servicing passengers with disabilities at Zurich airport, in which, the company that had provided this service for the last 12 years was also bidding for the contract.

We pioneered by being the first privately owned company in Greece, following the end of the monopoly regime in 1999, whilst also paving the way for Greek ground handling companies to expand overseas.

So, we were overjoyed when we were informed that in the recent Skytrax awards for the provision of services for the disabled worldwide, Zurich Airport was voted the 1st European airport and 5th globally. This distinction is particularly important for us as it is the passengers themselves who vote in the process.

What does Goldair Handling offer premium travelers?

Services provided to passengers, both by the airlines and by ground service operators on the ground are expanding every year, based on the one hand on technology, and on the other, on the airports’ infrastructures. In regards to infrastructure, Greece was at a comparative disadvantage for many years, which initially improved with the opening of Athens International Airport “El. Venizelos” in 2001 and more recently, with the 14 regional airports now managed by Fraport Greece. In both cases, significant investments have been made, both in terms of the overall passenger experience and the premium offering. Regarding the latter, our company consistently invests, among other things, in luxury premium lounges, with the opening this year of two premium lounges at AIA “El. Venizelos”, one in Mykonos and one in Heraklion, Crete, all offering upgraded hospitality and fine dining services before passengers board.

Is there anything that has remained high on the priorities of Goldair Handling’s management over the years?

Sustainable development and extroversion continue to be are our main priorities. A healthy company has to be able to provide sustainable employment opportunities. We have progressed from being a company with a few dozen employees 23 years ago to currently employing almost 4,000 people. In Greece, we currently employ 3,200 employees, which is especially significant in light of the 2 difficult years of the pandemic, but also in an institutional sense, as we recently concluded the collective labor agreement with the employees’ association.

What are the Greek aviation sector’s prospects now that tourism is once again gaining momentum?

The data are extremely optimistic, regarding tourist traffic in general, and airline passenger traffic in particular. We are seeing a significant recovery in air traffic, compared to the record year in 2019; we expected to see this recovery in 2023 or 2024 and not this season. Demand for Greece is strong, aircraft load levels are high and we find that the loss of tourists from Russia and Ukraine has already been more than covered by other markets. Although we are definitely going to have a busy summer season, we are extremely wary of the problems the airline industry is facing, there are flight delays or cancellations due to lack of airport security staff and cabin crew and lost luggage due to the lack of ground staff at key European airports.

What is Goldair Handling’s strategy for the next ten years? How do you envision ground handling in the future?

Regarding the domestic market, our goal is to transition our operations to the “green” era, using technological applications that will simplify the daily lives of users as well as strengthen the competitiveness of our services. At the same time, and in collaboration with the Greek airport operators (AIA, Fraport Greece), we are preparing significant investments in “green” ground equipment, with a 7-year horizon, with the end aim of assisting the airports’ zero carbon footprint goals by 2025.

Regarding our international presence, we are excited about our recent expansion into India, a market with excellent growth prospects that solidifies our transition from a regional company to an international ground handling organization, which allows us to transfer our know-how as well as the principles of Greek hospitality to developing airports in Asia. Our further expansion into additional Indian airports, but also our firm belief that we can contribute substantially to the development of airports in the Balkans (Croatia, Serbia) are some of our strategic plans for the next decade.

With the search for quality forms of tourism development at the forefront, air tourism undoubtedly contributes to attracting high-income tourists. What are the goals in this regard, and how do they relate to the current development of major infrastructure projects such as the Ellinikon or the Vouliagmeni marina?

We have seen quality tourism consistently developing in our country in general. This has taken place in Athens in particular, which has resulted from the coordinated efforts of many private and public agencies such as Municipality of Athens, AIA “El. Venizelos”, Aegean Airlines, the Association of Greek Tourism Enterprises and other agencies promoting Athens, not only as a city-break destination, but as a 12-month destination. However, as you also know demanding tourists want more than just flying business or first class or upgraded airport services. They want to live the travel experience to the maximum, with good transportation, quality accommodation, cultural experiences, gastronomy and a feeling of security that will not only make them want to re-visit the destination, but render them actual ambassadors of Greek culture and hospitality. In this context, the Ellinikon and Vouliagmeni marina mega-projects as well as the wider development and improvement of the infrastructure of the unique Athenian Riviera, will holistically strengthen the high demands of these types of tourists. This will result in Athens being on a par with other global tourist destinations that have already adopted this type of tourism.

We are excited about our recent expansion into india, a market with excellent growth prospects that solidifies our transition from a regional company to an international ground handling organization.

What steps have already been made towards developing the new type of air tourism in Greece?

Greece has progressed rapidly in recent years in attracting high-level air tourism. A key pillar of development was obviously the development of the airports, namely Athens and the 14 regional airports. The improvement of the facilities came about due to the airlines’ capacity increases as well as recent investments that Greek airlines have made in new aircrafts. At the same time, the international alliances that the country is building give a vote of confidence to the “Greek” tourism brand, recently resulting in a significant increase in direct flights from the US, and an increase in flight frequencies from France, and other markets such as Austria, Poland and Israel. Powerful investments groups making large investments in the hospitality have resulted in new 5-star hotel facilities in several destinations, which if nothing else, contribute decisively to this type of tourism, leading to Greece ranking 5th place this year in the “Tourism” category.

In an intense and ever-changing economic as well as social environment, what personal motto do you rely on?

The environment we have been operating in for many years is not only dynamic, but I would dare to say a kind of risky, for the reason that the ten-year economic crisis in Greece was succeeded by a global health crisis which is ongoing. We are also already heading for the next geopolitical crisis which has brought with it an explosion in energy costs, the negative effects of which we can’t even measure just yet. As a result, crisis management has become the new norm for many companies, which of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it forces a company to shield itself from unforeseen situations, through prudent management, avoiding high risk and continuously adapting. Therefore, adaptability and realism are my two main “beliefs” in the times we are going through.

Is ‘thinking outside the box’ part of your management style?

This business doesn’t really allow for that. The reality is that we operate within strict institutional and operational frameworks that are defined by Community directives and implemented by the competent domestic authorities. We have to fully comply with EU and domestic law which limits several thoughts and practices that may initially sound innovative and pioneering, but in practice are not supported nor provided for by the current legislation.

Her Way

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