A 20-Year Vision For Malta's Tourism Industry

 Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) President Tony Zahra discusses the immediate and long-term outlook for one of Malta’s most important sectors.

“There has long been the perception within the tourism industry that if you wish to gauge how the sector is going to fare in the next 18 months, then you should look no further than the air connectivity that will be available; or to be more specific, the number of seats to Malta that will be offered by the various airlines flying to Malta,” says Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) President Tony Zahra.

“From what I gather, the number of seats for winter 2017-2018 to Malta will exceed the number of seats that were available during the period when Malta held the EU Presidency.  I am also informed that between April and October 2018, the number of seats also exceed those of the same period in 2017. Therefore it is reasonable to expect that both in the coming winter months and in summer 2018, the trend of ever-increasing arrivals will continue.”

“Some in the industry have been asked to gauge the impact in arrivals that the EU Presidency had on arrivals between January and June 2017; I am told that this was in the region of 20,000 visitors. Whilst there is no doubt that this was a very welcome number, it is not a number that cannot be replicated over a six-month period.”

“So the 18-month outlook for arrivals looks promising; but what about the industry as a whole? How will it perform? The increase in arrivals has had a tremendous impact on the occupancy level of hotels and this has spurred on quite a few to add more beds to their establishments.  We don't have information as to when and how many new beds are coming on the market, but what is sure is that for a number of years now, practically all the increases in tourist arrivals have gone to so-called non-collective accommodation, or as we in the industry perceive them, as mostly unregulated and unlicensed establishments. If this trend continues and the number of new collective accommodation is significant (more than 10 per cent) then it could mean that there would pressure put on collective accommodation to reduce their rates. Naturally, this is not good for the health of the accommodation industry. “

“As for the restaurant business, there seem to be many more establishments, and many more covers.  Consequently, one wonders whether the number of covers is increasing at a stronger pace then the number of arrivals.  The other phenomenon that we are witnessing is the large number of non-Maltese nationals running these catering establishments and the lack of availability of Maltese staff in the restaurant sector.  Clearly we have to ensure that the rules and regulations are abided by everyone as otherwise we create an uneven playing field.”

“For many people, envisioning beyond the next 18 months sounds like the distant future. But it isn't; it's the near future. If one were talking about a vision, then one would discuss a 20-year vision.  Is it time to have a 20-year vision? And what should this be? This has to be the debate. Personally, I think it is well overdue for such a vision to have been put in place. Without a vision in place to guide us to our ends, the tourism industry will be unable to check whether it is achieving the success it desires or not.”

This article originally appeared in the August edition of The Business Observer

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