The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

MHRA President says free flights to Malta should be considered to improve tourism

Shona Berger Wednesday, 30 September 2020, 17:17 Last update: about 24 days ago

Malta Hotels & Restaurants Association (MHRA) President Tony Zahra said that free flights to Malta should be considered as this is one way to improve the tourism industry in our country. 

Horeca Malta organised its second webinar on Wednesday. It was moderated by Terence Mirabelli, Editor of Horeca Malta Magazine which assessed how the Hospitality industry needs to gear itself for the coming ‘winter’ months following the upheaval caused by the COVID-19 virus. 

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Federated Association of Travel and Tourism President (FATTA) Iain Tonna and Partner & Leader Financial Advisory, Raphael Aloisio were also present at the Webinar. 

The webinar also included a message from Minister for Economy Silvio Schembri who said that this pandemic has severely affected the hospitality industry. 

“We are about to embark into a new era which will determine a new future. As a government, we will remain focused on safeguarding and protecting as many businesses and jobs as possible,” he said. 

Schembri briefly spoke about the COVID-19 wage supplement which has recently been announced as extending beyond October. 

He remarked that the supplement will ensure the continuity of our nation’s economic well-being and that businesses would manage to stay afloat. 

Speaking on the forthcoming budget, Schembri said that the government will pledge to offer its support by introducing a number of schemes that will help businesses. 

He added that these schemes will translate well into the future and boast motivation, but businesses need to be vigilant and adapt during such times as life simply cannot go to a holt. 

MHRA President Zahra expressed that “we have to make sure that our resources stretch as much as possible and try to learn to live with this virus in our lives,” Zahra said. 

In answer to a question on whether the government has done enough in such a situation, Zahra remarked that it can never be enough as more can always be done.  

He added that as a country “we have to be positive and make sure that we are perceived as a safe destination. We need to ensure that we need to keep focused on the type of people that are likely to travel during the Winter months and during COVID.” 

“Our strategy is to try and make Malta be perceived as a safe destination, and we need to keep the seat airline available as high as possible – if you don’t have seats, you’re not going to get the customers,” he said.

Asked on the strategy that MHRA is proposing to the industry in its first steps to recovery, Zahra expressed his belief and said that he is not confident that the industry is going to take off on 1 April 2021. 

“Until we have a medical solution to this problem in our hands, we will remain in a difficult situation.” 

Zahra added that “it will take us around two to three years from when we have a medical solution to maybe get back the numbers, we had in 2019.” 

FATTA President Iain Tonna highlighted that the agency sector has suffered and gone under the radar from the beginning of this pandemic. 

“Our expectation is that now with our experience from the pandemic, we are expecting that a comeback will speed up as it gives people more security and comfort. Also, it seems that people are willing to pay the higher price to have that peace of mind.” 

Asked on group travelling, Tonna remarked that “our members are receiving requests for group travelling but at a very low rate.” 

He added that with group travel, until a medical solution is found, it is very difficult to say when we’ll expect this to pick up. 

“We feel that we’ll be looking at maybe 2022 for a full recovery,” Tonna said. 

Partner and Leader Financial Advisory, Deloitte, Raphael Aloisio, explained that that people need to accept that the problem isn’t going to be short-lived. 

Although Malta may not necessarily follow the global trends to the same extent as other countries, because our survival instincts are much stronger, the most important thing is a plan, Aloisio said. 

He added that the necessity to actually have a very clear plan on where we’re going to be and what we’re going to do is a key ingredient and people need clarity. 

“People need to be outside the box thinking in trying to identify what mechanisms can be developed. At this point, we are not, and we should not aspire to go back to pre-COVID as the world is going to be very different,” he said. 

People are going to have to adjust to cater for new realities. The quicker we all accept that this is going to be a long drawn out recovery, then our chances of long-term recovery and being able to have a new post-Covid normal is achievable. If we ignore the reality and we think this is going to go away, then we will fall into denial, he said. 

Alosio added that playing down the problem is the worst thing we can do. 

In a message given by the CEO of Malta International Airport (MIA) Alan Borg, said that since resuming operations on the 1 July, we’ve seen a recovery of 20% in July, a recovery of 30% in August but a decrease of 15% in September. 

“If we had to compare the summer period if this year to the summer of 2019, we’ve experienced a drop of 89%, which puts in context the blow the pandemic has put on our industry.” 

Borg added that this winter will also be very tough for our country. October already shows that we will have a seat capacity drop of approximately 65%. 

Living such a reality, “we believe that pre-COVID levels will not return until pre-2023.” 

Malta stands for hospitality and “we need to highlight the services we give as a country. We all need to jointly up our game in order to show the services we give to our guests and make Malta an obvious choice for tourists.” 

Although this has been a challenging time for all of us, we’re going to come out of this stronger and give our future tourists a memorable experience for the years to come.

 

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