A new era of air travel and passengers at Athens Airport
15 November 2022
For Issue 5 2022, International Airport Review’s Editorial Assistant, Lily Mae Pacey sat down with Ioanna Papadopoulou, Director, Communications & Marketing at Athens International Airport, at Routes Europe 2022. She outlined how the airport plans to accommodate the rise of a new passenger type and expand further into new route markets.
How has the pandemic impacted operations and passenger numbers at the airport?
Everything seems to be going in the right direction for a positive summer 2022 so far. We expect a recovery of almost 95 per cent for flights versus 2019 results, as per the airlines schedules. For the first two months of summer 2022, up to date with April and May, in terms of passenger numbers, we recovered up to 87 per cent of our traffic versus the respected period of 2019. If we take into consideration year-to-date traffic, then the result is -28 per cent due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. But, summer seems to be moving well for the time being and there are certain markets that are performing positively, including the U.S. with an expected increase of 60 per cent, offering more destinations, routes in comparison to December 2019. Furthermore, with the UK market, we expect a 13 per cent increase in flights, France an increase of nine per cent and Austria an increase of 35 per cent versus summer 2019 results. In terms of passenger numbers, demand remains to be seen but supply is there.
What type of traveller is most popular?
Pre-pandemic it was mainly leisure traffic – at almost 70 per cent – and the remaining 30 per cent made up of business and visiting friends and relatives (VFR) traffic, however this type of traffic varies among different markets. For both our Australian and U.S. markets, VFR passengers are more common. Overall, what we have ultimately seen post-pandemic is the rise of passengers travelling for both business and leisure, known as ‘bleisure’, or work and vacation, ‘workation’, an alternative term for the original ‘digital nomads.’ With our extended 24/7 market scheme, post-summer 2022 we will be able to recognise patterns within this new type of passenger.
How is Athens Airport accommodating to this new type of passenger?
We have paid attention to the emotional engagement of passengers, monitoring stress levels during the pandemic with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools and also with our staff assisting throughout the airport. This is a tool we continue to implement in this new, post-pandemic era, at all touchpoints at the airport.
Athens Airport now offers 35 additional retail and food and beverage (F&B) outlets, offering as much diversity as possible and especially that ‘Greek flavour’. Through this, we are trying to encompass that sense of place for passengers, rather than through the architecture, as our airport is still the original building. Instead, we push for our passengers to gain that sense of location through Greek-orientated services and products.
What is the airport’s future route development strategy?
Our main aim is to strengthen our U.S. market, as we believe this market will offer copious amounts of opportunities, as well as the development of direct services to the South U.S. market. Perhaps, most importantly, the return of our Asian market connections, specifically the Chinese market. Pre-pandemic the Chinese market was soaring, and we had developed our Shanghai to Athens route, so the prospects were very optimistic.
Can you give us your 30-second pitch on why an airline should choose to fly into your airport rather than your competitors?
Our campaign this year (2022) is ‘Find Your True Self’ at Athens Airport. Much like the expression ‘Find Your True North’, now this is what we say about Athens. Athens Airport is the healthy balance of an attractive destination, spectacular passenger demand, which is the basis for our airlines, as well as a varied reach in incentive skill. We are striving for operational excellence for our airlines.
How are you working with governments or tourism offices to promote Athens Airport?
We work very closely. Since 2011, in the middle of the Greek economic crisis, we began working closely with our aviation and tourism stakeholders. Up until then, the airport was not active in destination marketing or working together with external bodies. Then, these co-operations developed to a Destination, Marketing and Management Organisation (DMO). As of 2016 onwards, this has further developed into ‘This is Athens and Partners’, where alongside tourism, hotel, and other partners, we set yearly strategies and campaigns to promote and restore the attractiveness of Athens. We consider synergy as key and as an original public-private airport, synergy is in our DNA.
What sustainability initiatives are already in place? What does the future hold?
We have paid attention to the emotional engagement of passengers, monitoring stress levels during the pandemic with Artificial Intelligence (AI) tools”
As early as December 2019, we announced our ‘Route 2025’ project, which aims to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, without any offsets by 2025, instead of the 2050 target set for the entire aviation industry. This decision to move our personal target forward was a huge investment and it never ceased during the pandemic, unlike other projects such as our airport building expansion. Currently, we are net-zero carbon emissions, however there is still a percentage of offsets. So, we expect to reach our target through our largest sustainability project, which is the expansion of our photovoltaic park, which was our first major step towards our commitment to net-zero emissions and becoming SAF producers and consumers of clean energy. Furthermore, we are also working with the City of Athens, within the global sustainable council framework, which is currently assessing whether Athens is a sustainable destination, and the results will be announced in November 2022.
What is the three most exciting developments happening at the airport?
One, the spectacular development of the U.S. market. Next, the AI-based tools we have started implementing during the pandemic and which are continuing this journey. Lastly, re-thinking and commencing our new expansion plan, so that it is within our sustainable outlook.
What is your business outlook for the future?
For now, we can only hope for the return of normality and for Athens to restore its status as a city break year-round destination as of 2019 levels. Pre-pandemic and back in 2019, we witnessed our record year where we nearly reached our maximum annual capacity, which was 26 million and we welcomed 25.6 million passengers. In time, we hope to see a smooth return of seasonality and a balanced business model approach.
Ioanna Papadopoulou started her career with the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority. In 2001, she joined the Ministry of Transport and Communications as an advisor on Civil Aviation issues, and she held the position of the CEO of Olympic Airways-Services SA from December 2003 to May 2006. Between May 2006 and September 2009, Papadopoulou worked for the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority as the Chief Negotiator/Senior Expert on Bilateral Air Services Agreements and International Relations.
As of October 2009, Papadopoulou is the Director, Communications & Marketing at Athens International Airport. She was also presented with the ‘Woman of the Year’ award by the Air Transport News in 2014.