Interview with Eleni Kaloyirou, Chief Executive Officer of Hermes Airports Ltd

Where do you see the global economy going over the next years and in what way do you believe it will affect Cyprus?

I am happy to say that the global economy is finally beginning to look healthy, ten years after the start of the last financial crisis that we suffered. This year, for the first time, we are seeing that all economies, both emerging and developing, are forecasted to grow. Of course, some will grow faster than others. On average, the IMF is forecasting a 3,7% growth in GDP over the previous year. As far as the Eurozone is concerned, low investment and an aging population restrict the levels of growth. But even Eurozone is expected to grow by 2% in the coming year. Of course risks remain. Mostly, geopolitical risks that have to do with the nuclear issues in Iran and North Korea. Also, the ongoing wars in Syria and Yemen do not allow us to relax. And finally, the fact that central banks are beginning to raise interest rates may give a sign that this economic cycle is coming to an end and could lead to a future decline in growth. We hope that it will last though.

Now as far as Cyprus is concerned, Cyprus is a small open economy, its GDP is impacted by services including tourism, so the positive outlook for the world economy is also positive for Cyprus. Cyprus is expected to grow by 3% in 2018 following from a 3,8% growth in 2017. So, overall a positive outlook for the coming year.

What about your own growth prospects over the next few years? Where do you see the main opportunities for growth for your business and what are you doing to make it happen?

Our business is tightly related to tourism. In the last couple of years, Cyprus has done very well as a tourist destination. We have enjoyed growth in excess of 35% over the last two years and actually in excess of 45% in the last 4 years. This is impressive. We expect this to continue and obviously we are taking steps to be able to accommodate these passengers and grow further. What we are seeing internationally is a change in the patterns of people flying. What I mean is that in the past, flying activity used to be linked to the GDP growth of a country but last year, we saw that within Europe for example, air travel has grown in excess of 8% so many multiples over the growth of GDP in the Euro area. It seems that this is a new trend based on the fact that low cost carriers have made travelling easier and more accessible to people. We are also observing this new trend of the younger generation, who wish to experience things, as opposed to simply buying goods. This is positive for our industry because it means more people wish to travel. We see that this trend is likely to continue but of course we need to take steps as a country to ensure that growth will be sustainable, that we promote our tourism product in the proper way and ensure that our branding is correct, so that we have a sustainable pattern, and not a start and stop growth pattern like we had many years ago.

Which are the biggest threats and uncertainties facing your business today and what do you think will be the biggest threat in the years to come? What are you doing to address them?

One of the biggest threats to our business is generally the geopolitical uncertainty that exists around the world. In the same way that we have been successful over the last two years and have taken advantage of the geopolitical instability in our area, this could turn against us at any moment.

Also, we need the tourism growth of Cyprus to be sustainable, so if we do not take measures to ensure that growth will be achieved as mentioned earlier, in a sustainable fashion, this may also impact our business and it is something on which we have to work closely with all tourism stakeholders in the country to ensure that we achieve it. Now, what are we doing about it? There are certain risks for which unfortunately there is little we can do about, such as geopolitical instability. For those risks, what we can do, is monitor them and try and see how we can mitigate them in the best possible way, which sometimes can only be through diversification. For other risks, we can take steps to monitor them, for example by ensuring the safety and security of our operations, ensuring that we always have on hand the best people to deal with problems as they arise and generally by being vigilant and aware of the surrounding environment.         

In what ways do you believe technology is changing business? What specific strategies are you using or planning to use?

Technology is changing our business in many ways; in the way we operate, in the way we communicate with our passengers and in the way that things get reported back with respect to what we are doing. So for example, we are seeing operationally that the check-in area is not what it used to be many years ago and neither is it going to stay the same. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) is forecasting that over the next 10 years we are not going to have the traditional check-in halls. People will proceed immediately through security to the commercial areas to relax and enjoy their time before their flight. You can see already that people are checking-in from home, sometimes their baggage is even checked-in and taken from them before they even arrive at their airport. All these trends are likely to continue. The second thing, is the way we communicate with our passengers. Through the social media we have today, it is so much easier to be closer to your passengers, learn their needs and project to them many new things that we are doing. At the same time, of course, this can have the opposite effect because in certain ways you cannot “hide” some mishaps or problems that you may have. As soon as somebody is experiencing a problem, immediately he can tweet about it and the whole world will know. So, this means that you need to be ever more attentive and careful with the quality of the service that you are offering because of the fact this is much more noticeable. So, what we are doing about it, is that we are investing in technology, both in things that people see and in things that people cannot see. The check-in area is changing all the time with e-gates, self-service kiosks, the fast-track technology that we use and others. Even in areas that people don’t see we are making changes. For example in the area of security, security of the baggage and security of the people, we are investing all the time to ensure that we are up to date. And of course, we invest in social media, we have upgraded our website to contain an interactive map of our destinations and in other things to ensure that we remain in touch with progress and with our customers.    

Loss of trust in business and institutions is currently a hot topic for business leaders. To what degree do you think loss of trust has affected the relationship between your business and various stakeholders such as clients, people, investors, the state etc.? What strategies are you using to build trust?

I agree that trust has been lost, although I think that people have lost trust mostly in institutions, not so much in businesses, but certainly businesses also have to deal with the issue of trust. It is very important. And this is why businesses invest so much in their brand, building their brand and maintaining the loyalty of their customers, because at the end of the day this is what is supporting the business and only through trust you can achieve that. So, what are we doing about it? First of all as a company we have values. Our values are that we should work as one to deliver customer excellence and in doing so we want to be proud, we want to be forthright, we want to be trustworthy and we want to be caring at the same time for our customers, our passengers. These values are enshrined in our employee handbook, they are posted everywhere in the company and they are what people aspire to and what we hold them accountable for through our performance evaluations. Also, we have introduced a code of ethics because we want to be a respectful and respected company.  Through this code of ethics we have put in place the way that we want to do business and be truthful to our passengers and our customers but also with everybody else that we work with. And finally, as part of our strategic priorities, we want to enhance the way that we care for our employees because ultimately this is the way that our strategy is being delivered and also improve our relationships with all our stakeholders, which are none others than the ones you mentioned at the beginning. So obviously, we are aware of the need to generate trust and we believe that through our people we can project this on to the people that come into contact with us and hopefully get all our stakeholders to trust us and therefore generally improve the business environment.

What are the main challenges faced by women in top positions in Cyprus today? What was the most difficult thing you had to overcome in your career?

I would like to say that I never think of myself as different to anyone else because of my gender. I believe that both men and women face equivalent challenges in their everyday life. I don’t like to think that there is a difference and actually when I am sitting across a table from other people I don’t stop to think if he is a man or if she is a woman. It doesn’t really make a difference. It is a person and so am I and we are all here to do what we have to do and to deliver on our objectives. So, from that point of view I wouldn’t like to differentiate myself just because I am a woman. So, let’s see what challenges any leader of an organisation faces. I think the biggest challenge we have today is uncertainty. We are faced with a lot of uncertainty and really we cannot predict for sure what is going to happen in the next days or years ahead of us. So, what is the best way to deal with that? I have always thought about that very deeply and the conclusion I have come to is that the best way, is to have able people who have the right way of thinking and the appropriate experience and background so that they can deal with any situation they may be faced with. And I think once you have the right team in place, any unexpected situation that may come your way, you can find the ways to address it. Of course, it helps to be vigilant and this is why we monitor the risks facing our business so that they don’t come as a surprise to us and with the right approach, we believe that we can address them. 

Finally, as the CEO of your enterprise, what is the one thing you want to be remembered for?

Our company’s vision is to manage best in class airports, offering a product with a unique sense of place and generating value for the country as a whole and in particular for the tourism industry. If I can make any difference with respect to that and can be remembered for that, this would be a very big achievement for me. Like any company, of course Hermes wants to create value for its shareholders but at the same time the role that we play in the tourism industry and the economy of Cyprus is so important that I feel a sense of fulfilment by being able to contribute in that way and to achieve that I think it will be a great success. And finally, I think that if I can be remembered for my values, this is very important. My values are very important to me and I would not compromise them under any circumstances. So, if aside from being a successful leader, I can be remembered as a person who has always behaved in a fair and equitable manner and managed to achieve all the targets that have been set in an ethical way, I think this would be a very good legacy for anybody to have.

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