If you’re lucky enough to have visited this small island in the Mediterranean Sea then you must have unforgettable memories of all the best things it has to offer. It could be the beautiful beaches, the amazing food, or the architecture with some buildings older than the pyramids. Maybe you’re a fan of Game of Thrones and you were curious to see some of the places that were the perfect scenario for bringing to life this fantastic world of kings and dragons.
Malta has this natural power of bringing to life things that were just written in the books and, for some, too good to be true. It happened with an epic series and it’s happening right now with Air Malta. There is a clear need for customer-centric airline retailing and Air Malta, who started this journey during the pandemic, is a clear example of how to make it move forward.
The world of aviation gathered last week in Amsterdam for this year’s edition of the Aviation Festival and we had the opportunity to hear how Air Malta is taking this time as the moment of truth for digital commerce. Antonella Zirilli, Head of Digital Commerce and Distribution of Air Malta, Ursula Silling, CEO of Branchspace, and David Turton, CTO of Branchspace, talked about it on the first day of the festival.
Ursula: Antonella, what were the main reasons to embark on this digital journey?
Antonella: This started in the period of the pandemic when, obviously, many things changed. I noticed, especially in Rome, that passengers don’t have much tolerance anymore. They don’t want any inconvenience or any issues. They want so much to travel again because they didn’t have the privilege of choosing where to travel for a long time. So, they want travel to be easy.
What I found in Air Malta is a very strong customer orientation. It really puts the customer at the centre. It’s crucial to have a digital commerce platform that is flexible and simple. Everyone must be able to use it and it’s important how it looks and feels. It has to look good and feel good, but it also has to look and feel simple.
Our aim is to make digital commerce that doesn’t just offer something to be bought, but that is the first step of a journey with our customers. A journey that starts easily and ends easily.
Ursula: And customers experience this in their daily life. I went to Amazon Fresh and you don’t need to check out anymore. Some hotels don’t have check-in or check-out as well, it’s all digital. What are the main benefits you see so far?
Antonella: The main one is increasing performance. I have experience in system solutions, so I focus on problem-solving and quick solutions. It’s a quick win on one side, but on the other side, you need to have a vision of the new needs and the new ways of looking at a website. You need to see something that is linked to online shopping and linked to travel. I brainstorm a lot thinking about not just travel and planes, but also something that goes beyond seats, luggage or other ancillaries. Something that links the whole holiday. For example, sending during the trip different adventures on the island through partnerships. Fortunately, in Malta, it is possible to do this, because it is a small community and there’s a “love” communication.
Ursula: David, we heard quick and easy. Was the project so easy?
David: To set the scene, a couple of years ago the Air Malta team at the time decided that mid-pandemic was a good opportunity to redo their digital ecosystem. They embarked on an RFP process and Branchspace was lucky enough to win that process. Then, from the end of 2020 up until August 2021, we delivered a replacement for the existing digital capabilities.
This covered the full website portal and CMS, and it covered the typical airline transactional flows, like booking, servicing, and check-in. It covered specific touchpoints like a member portal for loyalty members to register, log in, and manage their profiles, and it also involved the staff of our integration into their loyalty platform to support.
We effectively delivered all of their capability within six or seven months. Air Malta’s team, Branchspace and other members were fired up about this opportunity during a struggling pandemic period to implement a lot of interesting customer experiences and interesting technology behind the scenes. It was an exciting project, a challenging project, this was mid-pandemic, and I know it seems quite normal now, but we spent the entire project not seeing each other face to face. That is difficult and makes it a challenging project not being able to see your partners and colleagues to deal with any problems. So we’re very proud of what we achieved with Air Malta.
The project for us was even more challenging because it wasn't just the Branchspace team delivering a bunch of technology, they had a new loyalty partner, IT partner, the partner that looks after their CRM, building stuff at the same time to create this digital ecosystem. We were managing all the dependencies and teamwork. So we’re all very proud of what we managed to achieve. We’ve been rolling out new capabilities, and lots of new things are coming.
Ursula: What new things are coming?
Antonella: We’re going to release our new mobile app very soon and we’re also going to change our loyalty programme because we want our passengers to be loyal to us again. I’m really pushing on the website to be nice, to have a service that is nice. Also, Air Malta Pay, which is a way for passengers to pay through direct bank transfer and it is going very well.
We have a bunch of new contracts for the future. We also want to introduce a new type of service used by companies like Amazon and eBay that covers the passenger end-to-end and is a very fast process whenever a problem can occur to the passenger. But nowadays I’m really focusing on the app.
Ursula: Is there anything that you would do differently or any advice you would give to the audience?
David: Hum…don’t worry so much about wearing pyjamas during conference calls. It wasn’t such a big deal. Secondly, a lot of airlines and technology companies faced similar challenges, but it reminded me that if you’re working in a multi-vendor delivery and lots of different moving parts it’s very easy to forget how important it is to be very diligent and very detailed oriented about dependencies, so from a program delivery perspective to be very disciplined about that. in addition, very good collaboration and teamwork.
Ursula: And you, Antonella?
Antonella: For me is all about practical communication. On top of everything. You need to have a true relationship and be able to find together any problem and to put everyone involved in communication with each other. I was not used to that type of workflow, because if I have interdependencies in many systems at some point I need them to speak and accelerate the process. So, communication and considering the role of the other person and putting in the other person’s shoes. Always respecting each other’s professionalism.
Ursula: I remember we were talking a couple of days ago and we summarised it very well with “better together”.
Antonella: Yes, I wouldn’t do anything alone.
note: we apologize for the movement of people and noise in the beginning of the video.