The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Malta needs to avoid protocol U-turns to remain attractive to tourists – MHRA CEO

Jake Aquilina Monday, 19 July 2021, 16:22 Last update: about 16 days ago

For the country to remain attractive to visitors it needs to avoid changing protocols which are introduced or making U-turns as much as possible, as although mistakes are anticipated, the protocols need to be sustainable, CEO of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Andrew Agius Muscat, told The Malta Independent.

On Monday, Malta was placed on the red list by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) due to the number of new infections recorded in the past few days.

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Lithuania then became the first country to re-impose quarantine restrictions on unvaccinated people entering the country from Malta, only hours after the ECDC red-listing.

The Malta Independent contacted Agius Muscat in order to get a glimpse of the impact the hotels and restaurant industry faces due to the current situation which the country finds itself in.

“Once protocols started to change again, there was a very drastic – or rather important – drop in bookings. This now needs to be evaluated week by week. Once there is change in the market, there will always be a reaction,” he said.

The CEO remarked that the fact that the country has been put on the red list by the ECDC might affect the industry according to other countries’ recommendations for people as to where they can or should travel.

“If you have countries where they would make the ECDC listings as their own policy and benchmark to identify countries where people should go, it could have an effect. However, if they leave it as a form of recommendation rather than an obligation, individuals will then make their own choice if it is worth it or not to travel to that specific country,” he observed.

Agius Muscat also pointed out that it is good to look at how other countries – such as Israel –are faring, as although they were the front runners by miles in the vaccine race at the early stages of the global rollout, they are still facing some issues now.

It remains to be seen how events will be evolving, as countries are adopting different strategies in order to obtain some form of normalcy, he remarked.

On Monday, the UK removed the Covid-19 related restrictions despite a new surge in cases in recent weeks, but it is difficult to tell which country is adopting the best strategy at this stage, he said.

“Unfortunately, this is a monster, but decisions need to be taken. We can see that the UK has a strategy of opening up, but deciding which country has the best strategy is still up in the air,” he observed.

The CEO remarked that this is why it is important for decisions to be taken in consultation with all stakeholders involved so that the Government can take the best decisions while listening to all perspectives and industries which might be affected due to the strategy which the Government decides to adopt.

“One wouldn’t expect mistakes not to happen but, as much as we can, we need to avoid U-turns and changes in directives which take place overnight. These would create a certain discomfort with people,” he observed.

He called for clear protocols to be published so that the country can avoid chaos and repercussions which would not appeal to other countries, as the country still boasts a very good vaccination program with more than 80% of adults are vaccinated. This is still something which is very appealing to tourists, he said.

Agius Muscat finally noted that the country still needs to prioritise both health and the economy, as both are extremely fundamental for the Maltese to prosper.

Meanwhile in a statement, the MHRA appealed to Government to work closer with stakeholders to face a common challenge which is leaving unprecedented damages to the economy and well-being of the people.

“In this context, MHRA appeals to Government to align its COVID 19 policy direction to the number of infected patients recovering in hospital rather than those being infected not needing hospitalization”, the association said.

“Concurrently, Government must pursue its efforts to reduce the number of infected people in order to get back the “Green” status as soon as possible”, they said.

The MHRA also noted the labour shortage in the hospitality industry and called upon Government to exempt tax on overtime and part time revenues earned by employees working in the tourism, travel and hospitality sector.

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