Hi Natalya. How are you doing, and how are things at AP Companies at the moment given the extraordinary circumstances we’re all living under?
I think all of us are a bit tired of this ‘new normal’ and we are looking forward to the opportunity to start travelling again, to get back to personal business meetings, to be able to plan life a little bit further ahead, and not to have to adapt to new restrictions and new regulations every week. AP Companies is doing well. In these difficult times for our industry, we have been able to make an internal restructure in order to optimise our resources, we have used this crisis as a growth opportunity and created new products, developed our network capabilities and learned a lot of useful lessons during this time – we have actually taken the pandemic as an opportunity and not as a factor to hinder our development. From the very beginning, we did not expect the pandemic to be over in a couple of months and we have never hoped for the world ‘to be the same’ after the pandemic. In fact, it will never be the same. It will not be better or worse, but it will be different, and we have to make sure that we understand how different it will be in order to adapt to the changes as early as possible.
What are the current lockdown measures in your country? Are you working from home, or also in the office? How has that been for you, personally? And for the company?
I am based in Spain and, here, everything depends on the place you are in. Restrictions are different in every part of Spain and, for the moment, we are all waiting for the improvement of statistics due to serious restrictions, and also the growing number of vaccines.
AP Companies currently has a flexible internal policy in terms of working from the office and working from home. In Spain, we all work from home; for me, it is a mixture of feelings. Working from home provides some peace of mind – considering the pandemic – but, on the other hand, I enjoy working in direct contact with people. I also miss my business trips and the opportunity to meet the clients and have this personal touch in our relationship. On a positive note, I have learnt that I do not really need as many clothes as I used to have. I do not have to spend so much time in the morning getting ready for work, and I do not have to spend hours in traffic going to the office. At first, I missed all these attributes in a way (maybe I was missing a routine as it was), but then found it very appealing and felt more independent and free. I never thought that I could achieve the same (or even better) results at work without even stepping out of my house. I had never worked from home before the pandemic.
For AP Companies, the transition to ‘working from home’ has meant an opportunity to increase the amount of people working from different parts of the world and therefore speaking different languages, contributing their local knowledge and experience to our international business. For a company like ours, it is a very interesting and important asset. For some of our team members, work during the pandemic was a way to survive and an opportunity to keep busy instead of concentrating on negative news, restrictions, limitations and downtimes, which we’ve all been through in the past year.
What are some of the key changes you’ve made to your business practices over the last 12 months in light of the pandemic, and are these likely to continue into the future?
Our employees enjoy the opportunity to work from home, and we have now built a very secure IT system that allows members of our teams to get secure access to the resources they need in order to support our clients. We have got used to online meetings, so we feel we are now much more flexible, more international and more efficient. When the situation improves and we have the opportunity to work from the office with no risk, we will keep this ‘work from home’ option as it proved to be very well accepted by our staff.
AP Companies has been working closely with the cruise industry to ensure crewmembers are tested for Covid. How is this work going, and has it had any further reaching benefits beyond Covid?
We are living in very interesting times: many cruise lines restart their operations this spring and are now preparing all their protocols in order to ensure the best possible and the most secure experience for their guests and crew. AP Companies is very happy to support cruise lines in these difficult times – not only are we providing PCR testing for crew, but we also built preembarkation antigen testing solutions in different ports and also support cruise lines with other Covid-19 management services, such as assisting in disembarkation for symptomatic guests and crew, provision of Covid hotels, hospitalisations, etcetera, along with our usual services.
How has Covid impacted the assistance industry’s ability to maintain its medical networks and interact with medical providers? How are these challenges being overcome?
Covid has impacted each and every business. Many medical providers now offer telemedicine consultations and we see it as an opportunity rather than a challenge. From an assistance point of view, we have also changed our approach to network development. During pre-pandemic times, we were aiming to cover remote parts of the world, as tourists seemed to be keen to visit these areas. During the pandemic, we have been concentering on expanding our network in terms of local (in-country) providers, smaller hospitals and clinics, and private practices. The need was dictated by the members we service, as, during the pandemic, most of the big hospitals were dedicated to Covid patients, people were still in need of routine care, and management of their chronic conditions, and we needed to rely on smaller medical providers instead.
What, if anything, has the pandemic taught you in terms of preparedness and business continuity? Do you think the global assistance industry was well prepared for such an event as Covid-19? Do you think it will be more prepared for a future pandemic?
I don’t think any industry could have been wholly prepared to face such a major situation, but we have all learnt a lot during 2020, and the pandemic is not yet over, so it probably does have some more lessons in store for us. As for future pandemics, I think we are all now more prepared. As for business continuity, diversification of books of business, remote access for all employees, and the ability to adapt and create, have proved to be the most helpful tools for us.
Congratulations to AP Companies for winning the 2020 ITIJ International Assistance Company of the Year Award! What did this mean to you and the team?
We were very, very happy to get the award. We have been working hard during many years in order to finally get this recognition from the industry. The award came in at a very difficult moment, and it provided us with a boost of joy and motivation that we all needed at that moment. We are even more keen on improving our services going forward and winning more awards in the future. Does your country have a plan for travel recovery? Are you starting to see the green shoots of recovery? Spain is a country that really depends on tourism, and the local government is putting in a lot of effort in order to make sure another travel season is not lost. I am convinced that the coming summer should be much better than the previous one. When the world opens up again, where are some of the first places you’d like to travel to? I will be very happy to get the opportunity to move again. My first trips will probably be short, somewhere in Europe, maybe Italy or Holland. And, most likely, those would be business trips, which make me very excited as well.
What do you enjoy most about working in the assistance industry and what, if any, changes would you like to see in the global assistance industry in the years ahead?
I enjoy the feeling of a united world, global communication and global solutions, the ability to meet people from different places and different cultures, the ability to learn about their culture and mentality. I am sure our industry will become much stronger and much more diverse as a result of this crisis, and I think we will be considered an essential industry for many years to come. Covid-19 has demonstrated how important it is to be well protected, especially when you are away from home.