The Malta Independent 7 June 2023, Wednesday
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The national airline – a legacy that must be maintained and built on

Julian Zarb Sunday, 23 April 2023, 06:57 Last update: about 3 months ago

The national airline is the linchpin between a quality tourism destination and business links with these islands. It may need revamping but why break what is not broken?


In my last article, I wrote about the issue at the start of a new chapter in the Being Responsible series about tourism by taking a brief look at how you can turn this shoddy, ill-managed destination into a sparking jewel again. During the 1930s the islands were referred to as the “Jewel of the Mediterranean” but like the artefacts scattered around the islands, this has become tarnished by greed, bad management and bad governance over the last decade. This week I cannot fail to mention the situation that has gripped the local news and the stakeholders in the tourism industry as well as the Parliament – the forthcoming demise of the national airline simply because of some hidden agenda, money and mis-management – particularly in the past decade.

Air Malta is nearly 50 years old, it will have already spanned half a century and is synonmous with Malta. I remember one time, when I lived in the UK, driving past the airport at Heathrow and seeing one of the old Boeings with the Air Malta livery taking off from this international hub where, literally, there are hundreds of flights taking off or coming in within a few minutes of each other. It was still a time I felt proud of being Maltese and seeing that plane take off made me even more emotional. This week we learn that the CEO has confirmed that Air Malta is due to close after the summer. I know that for decades now we needed to see a refurbished airline, a properly-managed airline but with the goodwill that this small national airline company has brought to these islands, it did not deserve to be dissolved or disbanded (unless, that is, there is some hidden agenda involving money, shares and new stakeholders with ulterior motives other than the interest of the national airline). The very first promotion slogans in 1973 read “Air Malta, Going out to make friends”. Such a promising slogan for the fledgling airline, especially after the fiasco in the 60s of Air Melita! My only worry here is are we still looking to make friends, but which friends are we looking for? The profile of our friends recently has really been somewhat sleazy and totally unprofessional. No, what Air Malta really needs is a refurbishment focussing on six important issues namely:

1.      Look at the management again of the Human Resources. Encourage motivation, incentivise; emphasise the proper care of grooming and presentation. The staff are the heart of any company and any airline cannot survive if its staff are not well motivated.

2.      Look at the position of Air Malta in the regional and international market and renew or rethink its alliances with other airlines. As a legacy airline, Air Malta needs to maximise on the open skies network across Europe as well as with its core markets such as the UK, Germany and France. The airline has a good reputation that has been built over 50 years but now it needs to rethink, redevelop and restore those alliances to meet today’s traveller who is looking for accessibility, comfort and friendly service (as opposed to the “busboy” attitude of today’s cabin crew).

3.      The management and Board of Air Malta needs to be less politicised and more focussed on the business acumen for the national airline. This will ensure that the idea for good governance and management will trickle through the organisation and improve the delivery of service and hospitality to the client. A new airline will most definitely be a political tool now (the announcement about the closure and a new airline was first mooted by the Minister for Finance and not by the board of directors, this shows political interference very clearly).

4.      Consider offering alliances with other service providers – car hire, accommodation and catering outlets for Air Malta clients. This will mean extending the offers for Air Malta card holders. This could also mean offering a quality package to clients.

5.      The value of this national airline is in the name – 50 years of goodwill needs to be enhanced by continuously improving and managing this airline.

6.      The national airline is the linchpin between a quality tourism destination and business links with these islands. It may need revamping and a lot of improvement.

If you follow these six points for managing Air Malta, instead of destroying what was built by local expertise and management, then we can all continue to enjoy the airline that did go out to make friends and did succeed, given its lack of economies of scale and size.  These six points will also be included in the Guidelines for Stewardship that I will be publishing later this year. Once again, this is my invitation to all of you to be part of this legacy for a better destination, a better country and a sustainable future.

I know what my replies would be and given the choices we all have as travellers I am certain I will find a far better destination where the host community is hospitable, the service is there and the civic pride can add to my value experience that will add to my value for money.

As I have said many times, visitors to a destination today are not just looking for price and availability but they are really interested in that value experience. These islands need to take a decision now – do you want to offer visitors real hospitality, service and professionalism or will you continue to allow bad governance and mismanagement to destroy the character, culture and attractiveness of the islands?

Still more facts in this short article that I hope will continue to encourage more people to write in and assist in the compilation of the Guidelines to Stewardship by Q3 of 2023. Thank you to all those who have already shown their support from as far as the UK, Switzerland and Germany (incidentally three of our key source markets). If we persist in ignoring these facts then, as I have said, tourism here will be an activity that may just attract sordid and nasty characters instead of the visitor who wants to be here – let us keep persisting.

This year I will be completing the Guidelines for Stewardships with the help of a number of individuals and NGOs who have already approached me and I hope to present this to you, as the community, to our politicians and to our authorities. We may, yet, be able to save these islands from total oblivion as a sustainable and quality tourist destination. Will YOU join me?


Recommendations and Summary

1.       Let us build a community spirit by developing the guidelines for Stewardship together; I invite all those interested to contact me.

2.      We should identify areas where we can regenerate local tourism for the quality visitor.

3.      Recognise our duty as communities to enhance our environment and care for the precious trees that will add value to our moral, ethical and physical quality of life.

4.      Those NGOs and persons (including local councils) interested in working with me on this project should email me on [email protected] or call me on 9916 7805.

5.      Let us get going let us really build better and reverse the horrendous state of this island.

I sometimes wonder – am I writing for the converted? Are there any other persons who agree or disagree with me? I frequently meet people who read these articles – but these articles are not just there to be read on a lazy Sunday afternoon; they are there to sow the seeds of change from apathy to commitment – to make tourism an activity we can be proud of. Let me know what you think and how you feel about tourism.


Dr Julian Zarb is a researcher, local tourism planning consultant and an Academic at the University of Malta. He has also been appointed as an expert for the High Streets Task Force in the UK. His main area of research is community-based tourism and local tourism planning using the integrated approach

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