The Malta Independent 17 June 2024, Monday
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Travelling on an airline without a heart and soul

Julian Zarb Sunday, 9 June 2024, 07:50 Last update: about 9 days ago

This week the local news on these islands is centred on the local council elections and the elections for MEPS at the European Parliament.  This is YOUR time, this is my time to act responsibly and change the course of this existence that we have been living over the past decade. Let us hope that the majority realize this golden moment to act responsibly. 

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But in the last week I actually experienced the result of the incompetence and irresponsibility that has become a national issue for the islands.  I travelled on the so-called airline, KM Malta Airlines, that is a poor copy of Air Malta.  This airline, I felt, lacked the heart and soul of a national legacy airline, it lacked the welcome that visitors to a destination will expect when they climb aboard an airline that is supposed to reflect the traditional hospitality and service.

This article will recount my own experience on KM Malta Airlines and could be seen as that example of an unplanned, badly thought-out project to rebuild the national airline.

As soon as I boarded the plane at Malta’s Airport I was surprised to see that there was no business class and that the crew did not have the local welcome. I could have been on any one of the thousands of airlines that fly around the open skies across Europe and the world (except that most of these have now developed some sort of unique welcome – my God, even Ryanair has a certain aura of welcome). There was a kind of coldness on the aircraft, even the in-flight literature did not have any reference to the Maltese Islands, magazines that are distributed on any airline, I suppose.

The flight out of the islands was alright but the crew carried out their service mechanically, without that warmth that had made Air Malta a national airline to be proud of, over the past fifty years.  I still remember the promotions for the new airline, the warm colours synonymous with the Mediterranean, the smile and greeting of the cabin crew.  Now that is all gone.

KM Malta Airlines is just another public transport where the passenger, the client, is a seat number on the list. The question is, though, who is really managing this airline?  A quick glance at the register of companies reveals just three names on the board of directors for KM Malta Airlines, none with the relevant expertise, knowledge and qualifications in travel and tourism. Is it possible that even here the integrated approach to management and planning and the clear representation on the board is also missing?

I still have six proposals how we, as clients, and the management can change this heartless `and soulless airline into a national airline to be proud of and that reflects the island’s perceptions and experiences for visitors.

 

1.      KM Malta Airlines needs to “fly the flag” again – this means it needs to display hospitality, service and warmth not only in the skills, competencies and attitude of the crew members but also in the décor and colours on its aircraft.

2.     The airline is not just a mode of transport but needs to be seen as an extension to the experience that can be expected by visitors when they arrive on the islands. Where are the inflight magazines that were packed with articles about the island’s history, culture and personalities?

3.     As potential clients of the airline – whether we are foreign visitors or, more so, if we are native Maltese and Gozitans, we must insist that OUR airline is not lacking in the Maltese spirit we used to have ten, twenty and even forty years ago. I would suggest that we voice our opinion about this spirit every time, we should not be content with a mediocre copy of the national airline….speak out, shout out loudly.  The airline was formed with YOUR money, you have a right to speak out and expect the spirit that reflects the national traditions and culture (including the local language).

4.     KM Malta Airlines should reintroduce the loyalty/frequent flyer card as a sign of gratitude to clients but perhaps we need to reintroduce that wonderful welcome we used to give visitors at our airport in the 1960s and 1970s - the folk group and their traditional music, the flowers handed out to the visitors as they arrived – a sign of the warm welcome.

5.     The airline should include the opportunity for public shareholding, people who feel that that management and directors must be answerable to them and who can take decisive action at the shareholder meetings – in other words, make the directors and management responsible to the shareholder!

6.     Finally, the airline does not belong to the government or to any politician but it is the airline of the Maltese and Gozo – we all have a right to see that it reflects this ownership. Act now and accept nothing less than professional service and hospitality by skilled, qualified and capable management, directors and crew members.

 

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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