Lufthansa Sales VP on 14 Years of Lufthansa in Georgia

Exclusive Interview

On the eve of Lufthansa’s first regional meeting in Georgia in its 14 years of operating here, GEORGIA TODAY went to meet some of the top ranks of the Lufthansa sales team to find out more about the airline’s presence in Georgia and the changes it has seen since 2005. Dr Stefan Kreuzpaintner is the Vice President of Sales in Europe, Middle East & Africa (on his first visit to Georgia) and Rene Koinzack is General Manager of Sales (Ukraine, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia and Turkmenistan) and is a more regular visitor, having seen the slow transformation of Georgia from a post-Soviet country struggling to overcome social unrest, to an up-and-coming community with aspirations to be a successful member of the global community.

Stefan gave us his first impressions, having flown in just prior to our late afternoon meeting: “I like it very much, I especially enjoyed the amount of green seen on descent and I’m looking forward to discovering more, as, while the data speaks of an increase in tourism, and a stable government and GDP, there’s nothing like getting a real taste of a country by exploring it.”

Both Stefan and Rene are in Tbilisi for a large regional meeting, uniting Lufthansa representatives from Russia, CIS countries, Georgia and Israel: over 60 guests, including those from the Head Office in Germany.

“We’ll be discussing sales and development, and it gives us chance to promote Georgia and show off it’s potential,” Rene, one of the organizers, tells us.

“This shows the importance of Georgia for the Lufthansa Group because this is the first time [holding the regional meeting] here,” Stefan adds. “Many of us are here for the first time. We have a lot of data and statistics, but to actually come and get a real taste of the country, the people, enriches our knowledge about future development potential and whether the data meets the reality.”

We ask about Lufthansa’s development in terms of its Georgian presence since the first flight was launched in 2005.

“It’s been a successful path,” Stefan says. “We started here 14 years ago out of our secondary hub, Munich, with very early morning flights serving the flow to Tbilisi. Now Munich is almost as big as Frankfurt. Introducing a second, day-time, service to Georgia, twice-weekly, shows the market is growing. One important milestone I can note came in 2008 when we transported 100,000 glass jars of baby food with German company HIPP via Lufthansa Cargo,” he remembers. “14 years of growth demonstrates that we are committed to the market and have always been stable in the market despite difficult [societal] circumstances.”

With ever more budget airlines showing an interest in serving the Georgian market, we wondered if Lufthansa expected any negative impact on its sales. The answer was a firm “no.”

“There is a clear philosophy at play here: if you have a sustainable and successful business model, then you can compete in your segment,” Stefan says. “Georgia is a nice example of a constantly growing GDP which shows that corporate demand is increasing- and Lufthansa is historically very strong in the corporate segment. At the same time, we are successful in the tourism sector in Georgia, in- and outgoing, in great part thanks to the visa liberalization two years ago, but also due to the actual increase in incoming traffic. This variety in customer bases differentiates us from our competitors. We have a premium approach to corporate travelers and are price competitive towards budget airlines.”

Stefan reports that around one million passengers have used Lufthansa to fly to or from Georgia in the last 14 years. It’s an impressive figure, made more so by the uncanny fact that in this, its 14th year, the capacity was increased by 14%.

“In the first trimester of 2019, we were overselling even our additional capacity. This once again demonstrates our success [here],” Stefan notes.

We asked him to elaborate on that additional capacity.

“The market is increasing in both corporate and leisure. We answered it by offering 14% more seats and by improving the quality of our services. We have night services leaving Munich in the evening and leaving Tbilisi at five in the morning. Now we’re also offering daylight services, leaving in the morning on Tuesdays and Saturdays. This improves connections in Munich, making it attractive for point-to-point passengers flying into Munich but also increasing the quality of our schedule for connecting passengers flying to the US, European destinations and worldwide.”

Knowing that Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is a big thing in the West, we enquired after Lufthansa’s contribution to Georgian society. It turns out that despite one or two small projects, Georgia has yet to feature in the airline’s CSR strategy. It is, however, Rene says, something they would like to work on.

“There are no concrete plans for Georgia yet,” Stefan confirms. “CSR, historically and currently, plays a very important role for Lufthansa Group. We have our own organization ‘Help Alliance’ which supports many initiatives worldwide- in Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, India, South America. And environmental consciousness is an important step in our strategy. We’re upgrading our fleet, as a modern fleet contributes most to environmental friendliness. We just ordered 40 new long-haul aircraft which will be delivered from 2023 onwards. These new aircraft can operate with reduced CO2 emissions by up to 25%. Today, having a state-of-the-art fleet with an excellent on-board product shows a clear commitment to our passengers and our response to environmental issues.”

As to future plans, the Lufthansa Group strategy is twofold, the Sales Vice President tells us, first highlighting their commitment to expanding their point-to-point airlines, Brussels Airlines and Eurowings, the “fastest growing platform within the Lufthansa Group in the last few years,” which happened through integrating both Brussels Airlines and Air Berlin.

“The premium approach, which is Lufthansa, SWISS and Austrian, further strengthens our penetration into the corporate environment, and we aim to make our hubs in Vienna, Munich and Frankfurt as convenient as possible for our passengers,” he says. “I believe in a step-by-step approach: we have a successful daily operation with early morning departure flights and now a 14% increase, making nine flights instead of seven. If those are successful, we’ll think about further expansion.”

To close, we ask about Stefan’s plans during his two-day stay in the capital city.

“Within the sales team meeting, we’ll be defining the regional market strategy and discussing how to improve products and services for customers. We’ll also be touring Tbilisi and the area around Tbilisi to get a feel for the country. I’m impressed with the alphabet and look forward to the wine,” he says. “Georgia is an important country for the success of our Munich hub, so I am very much personally interested. The airline business is about partnerships, so we’ll be meeting our business partners [while here], media, and a number of politicians, teaming up with the business and political community.”

Both Rene and Stefan, it seems, are eager to see Lufthansa’s further success in Georgia and see potential for the market in the years ahead.

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Dr. Stefan Kreuzpaintner was appointed Vice President Sales Europe, Middle East & Africa Lufthansa Group Airlines in May 2017. In this position Mr. Kreuzpaintner is responsible for all sales and commercial activities in the EMEA region which comprises 74 markets in Europe (except for the airlines’ home markets Austria, Belgium, Ger-many and Switzerland), the Middle East as well as Africa. His sales organization integrates the Group’s premium airlines Austrian Airlines, Lufthansa and SWISS as well as the point-to-point-carriers Eurowings and Brussels Airlines. Stefan Kreuzpaintner reports directly to Heike Birlenbach, Executive Vice President Sales Lufthansa Group and Chief Commercial Officer Hub Frankfurt Lufthansa Group Airlines.

By Katie Ruth Davies

23 May 2019 16:17