The Malta Independent 25 May 2024, Saturday
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A national airline with baggage

Julian Zarb Saturday, 13 April 2024, 07:37 Last update: about 2 months ago

In recent weeks the main story related to travel and tourism was, most definitely, the launch of yet another national airline to follow the 50 year old Air Malta that was forced into oblivion.

The new KM Malta Airlines was waiting in the wings to replace the established Air Malta and my question here is still – what did we gain by the gradual destruction of Air Malta?  What we did lose was a long established and committed workforce, we gained a cohort who have no loyalty to this airline or the islands but we appointed directors (it seems only two so far are registered with the Registry of Companies) who are close to this government and could be an ally in times of need (Yes men and women if you like!) So, once again , was Air Malta really in dire straits or was this a convenient change  - politically speaking?


A national airline must have the ability to deliver the travelers their first taste of local hospitality and service; it must represent the warm welcome in the host country; it is not simply a vehicle for travel but a window to local culture and traditions.  But even here this new airline started off on the wrong foot – by not allowing the staff to use the vernacular language of this host country, it is showing signs of political interference and bias here already!

I know, like me, there are many readers who may remember the short-lived Air Melita in the sixties, the inauguration of Air Malta in 1974 together with Pakistan International Airlines and you may recall the welcome visitors were given as they descended the steps off the aircraft at Luqa Airport – local traditional music, flowers and the words Merhba – welcome.  His was the time when the islands were really trying to live through the challenge of “Going out to Make Friends” as the old Air Malta poster claimed.  Today it seems you have forgotten this challenge and you are simply looking at ways of filling up pockets of a select few rather than providing an airline that is working in the national interest. KM Malta Airlines will not last long if it continues as it started, full of arrogance and ideas above its station.  What we need is to follow a few simple steps to manage this airline sustainably, responsibly and in the interests of the country.  Here are my six steps:

1.       Look carefully at the national airline , not as a direct competitor to other airlines – low cost or not – but as that unique service offering a unique service based on hospitality and service. Cabin crew, pilots and technicians including the administration staff must be trained to look at their positions with the airline as a career not a job.  They should understand local culture, language and traditions.

2.      KM Malta Airlines should be seen as an airline with a broad sector of stakeholders not just the board members and senior management. The airline needs to be seen as one that is “owned” by the local community and the employees.  Perhaps here it would be advisable to offer some kind of financial or service incentive to these stakeholders so that they develop that sense of belonging.

3.      Routes must be designed for the benefit of the outgoing and incoming passengers and each route should offer an interesting taste to the traveller in the hospitality and service of the destination.

4.      By creating a sense of belonging, it is important to create a sense of pride in the employees and management of the airline to deliver first-class service , a clean and orderly aircraft and that warm welcome.

5.      The airline should focus on a continuous process of improvement and enhancement to its management, hospitality and service and not adopt systems through firefighting techniques.

6.      Finally, the airline deserves to be managed through the experience and expertise of those dedicated employees (some who may have retired) who can be employed as advisors and consultants to ensure the excellence in hospitality and service.


By following these six stages, we can ensure that these islands are managed professionally, sustainably and with the idea of developing a quality activity that attracts the visitor who wants to be here not the one who wants to be here.  Travel and Tourism to these islands today is about quantitative gains for the greedy and uncouth.  We need to put professionalism and hospitality back in the equation.


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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