Anyone tracking world news knows that of the European countries currently felled by economic unrest, Greece is the worst hit. Beginning with the worldwide financial crisis of 2008 and following the infamous riots of that same year, output in Greece is down and continues to fall. Debts stand unpaid while unemployment grows.
The Greek economy alone is experiencing a Great Depression.
But there remains a measure of hope in Greek national news with a slowly growing contingent of Grecian entrepreneurs. One such individual is Stathis Katinas, co-founder of online franchise Car Rental Bookers.
A veteran of the travel industry, Stathis first transitioned into car rental and online travel booking in 1996 after managing a family-run holiday complex in his hometown of Rhodes. Through outreach to local car rental companies, he found a common need for increased Internet presence to address international bookings.
Together with software architect Tristan Mcvean, Stathis developed CarGDS, a global distribution software to support small and mid-sized car rental operators, in 2004. Through a pilot site, the software was first implemented locally in both Greece and Cyprus. They targeted car rental operators without an online presence or with basic sites. Providing the industry’s first deliveries platform, the service increases revenues of suppliers by expanding their market reach.
Car Rental Bookers provides software to suppliers to maximize car rentals through online booking, as well as distribution software for the bookings. Website owners can also add the CarGDS software to their consumer-facing site and become affiliates through the shared technology.
CarGDS even provides a customizable supplier SaaS, with a back-end administration that includes fleet, locations, insurance and reporting. This technology expands the supplier’s market to include not just cities and towns, but airports, railways stations, resorts, hotels and ports.
The pre-crash market proved noncompetitive for Car Rental Bookers, as similar technologies have only grown in recent years. Now in 2012, harsh austerity measures have increased VAT, homeowner levies and especially fuel prices. Thus it becomes all the more impressive that Car Rental Bookers has negotiated supply deals with several hundred local suppliers. The company holds deals with leading brands including Alamo, Enterprise and Hertz, among others.
According to CNN, registered unemployment of 364,000 in 2008 grew to 1.26 million in 2012, an incredible of 25.1%. With four times the original unemployed population on their hands, many in Greece argue that the stringent austerity cuts being implemented are stifling economic growth. The argument is fair, as despite tax levies, the country still owes more than it makes with a national debt of 161% GDP.
This makes the Car Rental Bookers lean approach to business all the more refreshing. Initial product development was primarily handled independently, with low-cost outsourcing for any additional needs. The company is entirely bootstrapped to date and is housed in Stathis’ family offices to keep a low monthly overhead.
And although the CarGDS system was developed with limited resources and was completed as recently as 2012, business continues to grow. The service now covers approximately 70 countries with the most customers in Greece, Spain, Malta, Cyprus, and South Africa, in addition to U.S. based business. As tourism remains one of few contributors to economic survival in Greece, it stands to reason that car rentals will continue to grow in popularity.
The best-performing stock market in Europe this past year was that of Greece. A rise of 33% in the Athens index outdid even Germany’s DAX. Officials predict that the Greek economy will start to grow by October 2013. While it certainly doesn’t override the future possibility of the Greek exit from the Euro, an upward trend in output speaks to the positive influence of local entrepreneurs like Stathis.
Needless to say, many more such heroes are needed to avoid a multi-generational tragedy in Greece.
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