How Air Malta is reinventing its digital experience in airline retail - Part 2

The face masks are off, those big conferences with thousands of people are back on the calendar, and travel is now so popular that it’s causing turmoil at some airports. It may seem difficult to remember that it was just last year when countries had their borders restricted, we were getting this new vaccine, and all our meetings had to be online. This was the scenario when Air Malta decided to go forward with the idea of shifting its traditional approach to the digital experience.

Starting something innovative in your company might be scary at first. You must have a clear plan in your mind and the right team to execute it. You need to prepare a pitch to convince your CEO and stakeholders as their absolute support is crucial to determine if this idea is going anywhere. Even so, you decide to go ahead, but you can’t have any physical meeting because the world is dealing with a new virus. At this time many of us would have thought that leaving things as they were is the best option to avoid any headaches. That was not what happened with Wayne Grixti.

The CTO of Air Malta believed it was time for a major change in the way this airline was serving its customers. Wayne gathered all forces, including their digital team, to support and drive this digital transformation journey forward. Together with Branchspace, they were able to implement a modernized booking engine and a new website. The results are a constant increase in sales, and, most importantly, positive feedback from their customers.

The way this project had to be handled due to the circumstances, shows how digital is playing such a powerful role in our everyday lives. This wouldn’t have been possible a decade ago for sure, so it’s time to take advantage of what technology has to offer and use it to overcome any challenges. The demand for an innovative digital experience has changed the way we work forever and companies needed to adapt quickly. So why should the way we travel stay the same?

Thank you Wayne for taking the time to talk to us about the digital journey related to the Triplake implementation. As CTO of Air Malta, can you explain to us what was the role the technology played in this project?

I started envisioning what Air Malta could do in the digital space before I joined when I was only a passenger. I used to travel a lot, mostly on Air Malta flights, so I interacted with the digital channels quite often That's when I started putting down notes on how I could improve this digital experience. Then I had the opportunity to be the CTO of the airline.
From day one I started pushing my vision and many people's vision on how this digital experience would look like. Basically, having a unified user experience and an omnichannel for the user's journey.
We started showing the RFP. This was back in July 2020 and we partnered with Branchspace, who understood our vision from day one and where we wanted to take this journey. Most of it was done online without even having one physical meeting, still we managed to launch a website and a modernized booking engine and we’re in the process of launching also a mobile app and a loyalty program.

Quite impressive. We were talking a bit with Antoine (Vella) as well about what it meant as everything was done virtually. The teams hadn't actually met in person because it wasn't possible with Covid. Yet, in spite of all of this, we managed it together and there were already the first results. By the summer, the booking platform was ready and started. What were the critical success factors from your perspective? How did you manage this side of a difficult underlying situation?

Yesterday, I was at a conference, my first after two years of Covid, and the topic was how we, as technology leaders, manage to convince our peers, our CEOs, our CFOs, and our chairmen to continue investing in the technology. Even during the restrictions, during Covid, during the impact we had because of these restrictions. So that when we're back to normal, we will be there with a modernized, digitalized and transformed experience.
I think now we are bearing the fruit of the seed that was sown back then. If I had to summarize it, the critical success factors for me were two. The shift between the sales channels, to increase the sales from the new booking engine, and it was also in time when travel was starting to ramp up.
That was a key milestone and we managed to deliver it in the shortest period of time, but in time also when we were starting to recover and to the positive feedback which we had from our passengers and our customers.
We were used to receiving a monthly report and the first item on the feedback list was also saying: improve your website, improve your booking engine, improve this, improve that. But following the launch, those negative comments became positive comments. That for me is also another critical success factor.

Happy to hear this of course. Actually, you reminded me that in addition to all of these specific circumstances, there were also changes in the top management. The chairman, the CEO at the time the evaluation was made, left and then the chairman and CEO joined only in January when the project started, and the CCO joined even later, correct?

Yes, correct. We started issuing the RFP when there was a CEO and the board which then even the board and the chairman changed. So that was also a challenge in itself, but together we managed to convince the new board and the new CEO to continue supporting and championing the project. If we had to list it as another critical success factor, I think that would be one as well. So we have three now.

For me it was very nice to hear that there was this full support. When I joined Branchspace last year and wanted to hear the feedback, David Curmi, the chairman, said it is a critical part of the digital transformation journey and it's only the beginning, and we see this as a long-term partnership. It was of course very nice to hear.

In this digital transformation journey that Air Malta has embarked on, you have planned quite a lot of other innovative approaches because you really want to differentiate from the competition, correct?

Yes. We had a very old loyalty program which we were also looking at. We have our technology strategy but in parallel, we also have our customer experience strategy which goes very much hand in hand with this customer 360 Experience or Customer Journey. We started with the website, the booking engine, but in the pipeline we are also looking and soon we will be launching the new loyalty program which is based on innovative technology as well. As an airline, we should be looking at innovative technology to empower the business to make our organization sustainable. I found a lot of support from senior management, from the board, from everyone
The mobile app is the next step. Hopefully, we will be able to launch it very soon and eventually other channels for businesses and companies and organizations.

Is there anything in hindsight you would do differently in the whole process?

Before we started, I was a little bit sceptical about how this will go through, when it comes to delivering from A to Z a project totally online without even one physical meeting. The area where I was a bit sceptical was not the development was not the implementation deployment but the business analysis and the requirements gathering. There you have a number of stakeholders and a number of users and you need a lot of interaction there.
Luckily we had the online tools to do it together, with you and the other stakeholders, because it's not just Air Malta and Branchspace, there are other stakeholders that were involved in the project.

If you had to summarize the journey so far and the achievement just in one sentence, what would you say?

When there's goodwill, when there's a good relationship between the organization, the partner who is supplying, the application in the system and flexibility, and room for manoeuvre, I think you can take any project and deliver it with success. From day one we had a gentleman's agreement between us that we would have retained this kind of relationship even before signing the contract and I think we managed it well and now we're really seeing that it worked.

Probably something which many airlines forget: how important the whole partnership is because if that works you will achieve anything also in the future because the future is dynamic as well.

Is there anything Stephen from your side that you would like to add? Was there any criticism of the solution?

The feedback was very positive. Upon implementation, we immediately saw a sustainable increase in the number of bookings. The online experience of the new website was received very well. The two big projects coming up at Air Malta are customer-related. The 360-view of the customer in the sense that both the mobile app and the loyalty program focus specifically on making the customer journey and the customer experience with Air Malta. I believe this is the way forward. This is the way Air Malta would like itself to develop. So, the customer will be the central focus in the forthcoming months and years with Air Malta.

Yes, this will lead to success. Focus on the customer. Thank you so much.