Şebnem Akalın: First of all, we would like to thank you for your time. After working as an executive at Turkish Airlines for many years, you established the solution-oriented technology company Hitit Computer Services (Hitit Bilgisayar Hizmetleri). Can you tell us about the idea of founding the company, how it came to be, its processes, and being a female executive in the aviation industry?
Nur Gökman: We established Hitit in 1994 with our belief in our country's young and visionary minds in the field of information technologies (IT). We did not want to depend on foreign countries, especially in aviation, and we knew that these technologies could be produced in our country. In those years, aviation technologies were newly developing, not only in Turkey but all over the world. Although the role of air transportation in the travel industry is not as significant as it is today, the growth trend that started at that time attracted those in the industry. Both new airlines were being established, and existing ones were trying to increase their income by trying different business models. At this point, aviation technologies started to come into play. We created a new industry in Turkey by founding Hitit with Dilek Ovacık.
The first project we developed was loyalty solutions. This solution, which we can define as the technology that planted the seeds of Miles&Smiles, has become the most preferred system in the world, enabling us to become a well-known company in the global aviation technologies sector.
Being a woman in the technology field is a different situation for our country. Working in an area such as aviation technologies was both different and challenging. But I can't say that I had difficulties as a female executive; I can only say that until we introduced ourselves, seeing women at the male-dominated tenders surprised people. They were even more surprised when we told them that we came from Turkey. This perception was broken as Hitit became an increasingly well-known company in the sector. On the other hand, in the first years of the company, we mainly worked with male staff, because besides our slow pace, the number of female computer engineers was also low. After the office we opened at Yıldız Technical University, our female colleagues started to join us gradually. Currently, 40% of our company consists of women. At management levels, this number is 60%. It is a great honor to have a very high level of female employees for a technology company, especially an aviation technologies company...
Şebnem Akalın: In your journey that started with passenger services, you began to provide services to several foreign airlines with domestic solutions. What can you tell us about your solutions and the top products and services you offer?
Nur Gökman: On this path we set out with loyalty systems, we also started to provide passenger service systems, operational solutions, and financial solutions to aviation and travel actors, respectively. Although our business partners are primarily airlines, we have also produced solutions for different companies in the sector, such as ground handling companies. Subsequently, we continued our developments to reflect our 360-degree service understanding and to enable the industry and passengers to benefit more from the opportunities offered by technology. We currently also have solutions in commercial products, travel solutions, and air cargo areas. Thus, our area of interest has become a large ecosystem, including travel agencies and air cargo companies.
We develop our solutions with new technologies compared to other solutions in the same segment in the industry, and we can provide solutions and services to airline companies regardless of their business models. In this context, we are at the forefront of companies with the most comprehensive product portfolio and systems in the world.
On the other hand, with our solutions that can meet all the needs of airlines, we are one of the pioneers of a concept known as the "one-stop-shop" in the sector, that is, all services can be provided from a single point. Airline companies using our software solutions can find solutions to all their needs both in passenger services and in their own internal processes without the need for other software support. In addition, we can provide services to airlines that need only one solution because our solutions can work in integration with other systems.
Şebnem Akalın: The number of airline companies you work with is increasing day by day. We know that major airlines worldwide are your customers; which airlines do you currently work with, and are there any new airlines that will be added to your network in the near future?
Today, we provide services to nearly 60 airlines and travel companies in more than 40 countries around the world. This covers vast geography spanning Africa to Asia, Europe to the Middle East, and North America to South America. We can say that there is no continent we have not set foot on except Australia. We are the first company in Turkey to export aviation technology. As a result, we derive nearly 80% of our revenues from exports. This is a significant achievement, especially in today's parameters.
One of the developments that made us very happy is that we have also become the choice of airlines that have worked with the world's leading technology providers for a long time. We concluded 2021 with 36% growth thanks to the agreements we signed with 13 new airline companies. Having a growth chart far above in our sector, we surpassed many companies from several different sectors. Our negotiations and tender processes continue all over the world. We expect to end 2022 with a remarkable increase in our customer portfolio.
Şebnem Akalın: In addition to passenger services, you have recently increased your activities with cargo solutions. Can you inform us about these? Which countries have started using your solutions, and what airlines do you expect to be added in the near future?
Nur Gökman: Thanks to our studies in air cargo that we started just before the pandemic, we currently have two air cargo products in our solution portfolio: Air Cargo Management System Solution (Crane CGO) and Local Cargo Services (Crane DOM).
When we look at it cyclically, the importance and operations of air cargo have increased considerably, especially during the pandemic period. Cargo is no longer a secondary area for airlines and is now recognized as necessary as passenger services because cargo has become a critical revenue generator for airline companies, especially in fragile and challenging times.
In parallel with this, the use of our air cargo solutions is increasing day by day. Behind this rise is not only the increase in cargo demand accelerated by the pandemic but also the preparation of our solutions with the latest technology and analysis of sectoral deficiencies.
Our Air Cargo Management System solution has recently been used in Turkmenistan Airlines, where we have been working in passenger service systems since 2016. We expect new airlines to use our air cargo solution in 2022.
Şebnem Akalın: At the end of 2021, you won 2 awards in the fields of "Aviation Software Company of the Year" and "Aviation Technology Company of the Year" from Bluesky Awards. Can you tell us a little about these awards?
Nur Gökman: Bluesky Awards is one of the first award programs in the aviation field in Turkey... As the first and largest 100% domestic company that produces aviation software in Turkey, it was no surprise for us to win these awards. Apart from the Bluesky Awards, we have won many awards in recent years. We have been selected as Turkey's biggest travel software exporter for the last three years. Since its establishment, Hitit has won several domestic and international awards such as ITU Teknokent R&D Exporter Winner, Best Aviation Software Company in Eastern Europe, Europe's Leading Passenger Service System Provider, Europe's Leading Passenger Service System Provider, Best Airline Reporting System, the Most Niche Technology Company of the Year, Turkey's Best Sectoral Software Company, and Aviation Technology Company of the Year Award.
In addition, we returned with two awards from the Best of Sales Awards (BoSA), which was held for the fourth time this year by Sales Network in May 2022. As a result of the evaluation made by the independent jury members of the Sales Network, which has 99 corporate members, Hitit was awarded first place in the Sales Performance category with its sales figures in 2021. In the category of a Better World, where social responsibility projects are evaluated, we came second with our Flying Rackets project, which brings sports into the lives of children in a sustainable way.
These awards further encourage us to grow our business and strengthen our position in the airline and travel technology industry.
Şebnem Akalın: What can you tell us about your future plans, expectations, and goals for 10 years?
Nur Gökman: It is a fact that the COVID-19 pandemic has radically changed the plans and future expectations in the aviation industry at the end of 2019... On the other hand, the fact that we have grown out of the biggest crisis that the aviation industry has faced in the last 100 years reveals the importance of technology and digital transformation in the future. As a company that has increased its customer portfolio by 41% during the pandemic, we think that we can maintain our growth trend for the next 10 years. We aim to gradually increase the number of countries and airlines we work with and thus improve our contribution to Turkey's service exports.
By marketing our other solutions on their own, we expect them to achieve global success like our reservation system, which is vital for airline companies, and become leaders in their fields.
In addition, we work with the awareness of fulfilling our duty to society and creating a better world by transferring our technology contribution to our industry to the social field. We also attach great importance to social responsibility projects within the scope of our sustainability policies. We organize projects and aid campaigns in many different areas, target different audiences, and continue our work in sports, healthy lifestyle, environment, welfare, education, and gender equality.
Şebnem Akalın: Thank you very much for your time. Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?
Nur Gökman: I advise our young people to be patient while chasing their dreams and choose jobs they will love to do as hobbies. I recommend women advance in their careers by focusing on the goal they want to achieve, ignoring the obstacles they may encounter, and being confident in themselves. I see women as an indispensable part of business life and believe that women make a difference in business life with their creativity, empathy, and multifunctional abilities. There are numerous success stories in this sense in our country. Therefore, my humble advice to women would be to bring their creative ideas to life and believe in themselves more.