Globalisation has opened borders, markets and doors for great business opportunities. We want you to be able to seize them all and feel at home in the world with our services always within reach. In this new edition of “Alphabet around the world” our partner Autohellas, operating from Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Croatia, will take you through parts of the Balkans, their countryside and traffic. Let’s take a look!
Tell us a bit about your company, please. What makes you special?
Autohellas was founded in 1966 in Crete, where Theodoros Vassilakis signed a partnership agreement to become a Hertz agent. Since then, the company has been active in the automobile sector and, since 1999, has even been listed on the Athens Stock Exchange. Autohellas is a member of the larger Th. Vassilakis Group which operates, inter alia, in the air transport industry through the listed company AEGEAN.
Autohellas owns the largest private fleet of vehicles, with more than 48,000 vehicles and over 143 sales points in Greece and abroad. The Group provides integrated and innovative services meeting the needs of every customer, at any moment, and it continues to innovate, always offering new services. As a company specialising in the provision of services, we place great importance on our human resources, which now numbers at over 1,300 people and thus makes us the largest car rental company in Greece.
Driving like a local: your best tips
Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus are such nice countries. Can you recommend some nice spots in your area as a must-visit for drivers?
Greece has a rich history, interesting archaeological monuments, delicious cuisine, many beaches and countless islands. Island hopping and road excursions on the Greek mainland are great options to explore the country through all seasons. The capital offers a bouquet of choices for its visitors. Having 3,000 years of history and a wide expansion in the beautiful surroundings of Attica, Athens offers a huge variety of experiences. The oldest parts of the city, including Plaka and Monastiraki, is mostly a walk-around tour, but driving a bit can reveal hidden gems, too: Athens Riviera, a coastline starting from Piraeus Port and ending in the Apollo Temple at Sounion, offers magnificent choices of sightseeing, relaxing at the beach, eating and shopping.
Except Athens, some places every visitor ought to see: Delphi, Meteora, the medieval town of Rhodes, the ancient theatre of Epidaurus, Thessaloniki, the palace of Knossos, Corfu Old Town, Melissani Cave, Kefalonia, Nafplio, Santorini… just to name a few.
Croatia is a small Mediterranean country and a famous tourist destination. It offers exceptional natural beauty, rich historical and cultural heritage and preserved tradition. It is full of contrasts, from the continental to the Mediterranean style. Cities are completely different, and regions with their local traditions and gastronomy today make an original offer for tourists from all over the world. When in Croatia you can relax, engage in various cultural activities, see the beauties of National Parks, enjoy sunbathing and swimming in the beautiful Adriatic Sea, visit cultural sights, taste various gastronomic specialties or simply make friends by socializing with locals. There are many interesting places to see in here: the capital Zagreb (State Parliament), Pula (amphitheatre), Zadar (Nature park Kornati, Krka), Lake Plitvice (only a two-hour drive from Zagreb), Split (Venetian Palace), Dubrovnik, and so on.
Bulgaria is a wonderful country for cultural or mountain-ski tourism or to see our wonderful seaside. Very close to Sofia are our attractive winter resorts Borovets and Bansko, where you can experience traditional cuisine. When visiting Sofia, don’t miss the majestic St. Alexander Nevski Cathedral, which is one of the most distinguished and famous cathedrals in Bulgaria. Enjoy your coffee or cocktail on Vitosha Blvd. among the number of cosy bars and shops and excellent view on the President Hall. Hertz chauffeur services will bring you to dine in some of the best restaurants (e.g., Pod Lipite, MOMA, Vodenitsata) and to taste the famous Bulgarian Rakia and Bulgarian wine.
Plovdiv is another interesting city in Bulgaria. In the city centre you can find ancient excavations from the Roman Empire as well as a Muslim church called Djumajata which is evidence for the good and peaceful relations of different religions and cultures in Plovdiv. Another peal to visit is Bourgas at the Black sea coast. The contemporary city centre and enormous sea garden are situated just next to the beach. And last, but not least, is the capital of the Black sea, Varna. Next to Varna are our luxury resorts Golden sands, St. Konstantin and Elena, Albena – the Northern Black sea coast is famous for its luxury resorts.
Protaras and Ayia Nappa are renowned for their crystal-clear blue waters. Visitors can relax and have fun on the island’s most popular beaches! Just 50 minutes from Nicosia or Limassol, visitors can drive to the top of Troodos Mountains. Unique in their geology, you can follow the nature trails through the forest, explore the folk architecture of the villages, or simply relax in one of the many picnic areas. Always worth a visit is Limassol city, which is beautiful, incredibly hip, and extremely popular. It is famous for its rich nightlife, and visitors can check out the old town and the historic centre next to the old port, where the Medieval Castle and Museum of Limassol are located.
The birthplace of goddess Aphrodite, Paphos, is especially popular for its award-winning beaches and rich cultural tradition. A visit to the grand city of Nicosia is a must for every visitor! Located in the centre of the island, it’s a blend of the many empires and kingdoms that claimed it over the centuries.
What is your best advice as a local on vehicles, traffic and general customs in your country that you would give to a driver from abroad?
The last couple of years things have changed considerably concerning how drivers react on Greek roads. The network is improved, especially in Continental Greece, so that drivers can enjoy fast and safe driving. Driving in the islands could be more complex, so driving slowly is recommended (and better if you want to take in the scenery). However, if you visit Athens you are going to experience traffic jams in rush hours so the best choice to explore the centre of the town is by using public transportation.
The main highways and roads in Croatia are in good condition and are maintained and improved yearly. Traffic is usually heavy during summer peak season and the best way to avoid it is to use old country roads, which are in good shape, empty and free of charge. General custom is to respect traffic laws, especially regarding speed, because penalties are very high and there is no possibility of negotiation with Police. We have speed limits of 50 km/h within the city and 130 km/h on highways, unless otherwise specified by a posted traffic sign.
The most important information for visitors who’d like to drive around is probably: In Cyprus, we drive on the left-hand side of the road and overtake on the right.
What do drivers in your region attach particular importance to?
Air conditioning is a must in Greece. It is almost impossible to find a car moving in the Greek streets without air conditioning, as temperatures exceeding 25˚C can last for more than six months per year. Automatic transmission is an increasing trend within the last five years, along with a booming interest for SUV and Cross-Over vehicles, that better suit the Greek surroundings, covered with cliffs, mountains and a vast coastline. In the previous years, diesel engines were very popular but now the market shifts to Plug-in Hybrid, Hybrid and petrol cars.
Particular importance is given to the vehicle price, automatic transmission, and equipment such as air conditioning, and German brands.
All cars need to have an A/C, because we have quite hot summer months. The share of automatic cars is rapidly growing, but the company cars from the small segments remain manual. We also see a trend in buying SUVs. Regarding fuel type, diesel was preferred, which now changes as a trend, giving space to Plug-in Hybrid, Hybrid and petrol cars as well.
One of the main criteria for drivers in order to choose a car is automatic transmission, air condition and of course safety standards.
The new normal: COVID-19 measures in Greece, Bulgaria, Croatia and Cyprus
How has the daily business changed for you since COVID-19? What special measures did you take to protect customers?
As the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve and lockdowns are still in place in most of the countries, our first and foremost priority is the health and safety of our customers and employees.
New customer service procedures and cleaning and disinfection protocol have been adapted from the Autohellas group. More specifically, this means:
- The company follows thorough cleaning procedures for each vehicle after every rental and specific guidelines have been issued by the company’s management to all employees involved in the process of vehicle delivery and collection.
- All of our branches are equipped with antibacterial materials (wipes, gel) which will be available for all customers.
- In the event of a COVID-19 positive client or employee involved in the day-to-day vehicle procedures and operations, the company has set up a process for immediate disinfection of the vehicle and facility, as well as proceeding with the relevant medical inspection of all employees that have been involved in the renting procedure.
- We supply our staff with all necessary personal protective equipment (masks, gloves, antiseptics), we conduct frequent tests, and we have increased the number of employees that work from home.
We are in communication with relevant authorities regarding COVID-19, and we are taking all necessary precautionary measures in order to protect our clients, employees and suppliers, as well as contributing to the interruption of the transmission chain.
Mobility trends: fleet development
Which partners are you currently working with?
We currently work with more than 300 partners throughout Greece. For the maintenance of the vehicles, we cooperate with all authorised dealers and service partners where our own maintenance facilities are not present. Regarding tires, the Bridgestone importer is a member of the Autohellas group. In addition, our unique network of more than 70 owned stations enables us to provide high quality service to our customers.
In Croatia, we cooperate with Centre for Vehicles of Croatia (CVH), for technical inspections, testing and homologation of vehicles. Also, a cooperation has been established with a network of service partners (CIAK) as well as individual cooperation’s for fleet repair (workshop and body shop). In addition, we work with two main tire importers for Croatia – Vulkal and GumiImpex – which have networks of their own. All partners are regularly visited and evaluated to provide high quality services to our customers.
All of our partners either are multinational companies such as EKO gas station or authorized importers, and all services are held in authorized service stations. Needless to say, that our partners are evaluated at regular intervals in order to maintain high standards of services.
We cooperate with Eco Elda, Petrol for gas stations, however OMV & Shell are welcome, too. All partners have contracts with all official dealers of vehicles in Bulgaria as well as local repair shops, covering nearly all major cities.
Which mobility services are the most important in your market?
Rent-a-car remains the most popular solution of the personalised mobility services, along with Private Transfer/ Chauffeur Service. Due to the morphology of the Country and the numerous islands, these services seem to strengthen and further increase the coming years. Taxis and Bus Services do have a considerable share in this market, yet are rapidly decreasing because of service, rates and health factors. What now becomes a trend and a necessity, especially for Athens, is the renting of e-scooters and e-bikes.
The use of personal vehicles is the most popular mobility solution in Croatia. This is followed by public transport, taxi services and rent-a-car (which is also the most popular solution among tourists). Croatians are not familiar to car sharing (it exists, but it is not popular).
In Bulgaria, personal/owned cars hold the major share, but leased company cars are rapidly growing. A trend which is growing among companies more and more is electric car sharing for hourly use, especially in bigger cities like Sofia. Rent-a-car is very popular among tourists, as well as public transportation and taxi services.
Rent-a-car and taxi services are the most important mobility services in Cyprus.
Our partner from Norway, Autoplan, would like to know: How is the shift to electric cars going in your country, and how does it affect your company?
Autohellas is a pioneer in leasing services and always a step ahead when it comes to the development of services that lead to a greater satisfaction of customer needs. Now that money saving needs and the overall reduction of pollutants is more important, Autohellas offers electric cars for leasing through the Electric Lease Service. Charging points have been installed to most of our stations and electric cars are also available for short term rentals.
The infrastructure for e-mobility is still in a premature stage. However, at the end of 2020 there have been significant developments in the e-mobility market in Greece with a new law “on the promotion of e-mobility”, which includes tax incentives for the acquisition and use of e-vehicles as well as the development of charging points and incentives for e-mobility product manufacturing, among others. Despite the pandemic and its effects on the world, those incentives strengthened the Greek market and doubled the registrations of EVs – this is giving us a hopeful outlook for the coming years.
The next interviewee will be from our OneNet partner AKS FLEET SOLUTION in Serbia. What would you like to ask them?
Operating leasing initially was introduced for corporate fleets. In the last two years, we see that individual leasing has become very popular in our markets. Do you observe the same trend in your country? How and when do you think other mobility solutions will be adapted from individuals?
Thank you for taking us through your countries. See you there soon!