The Malta Independent 5 March 2024, Tuesday
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MHRA says indications for Christmas period positive, ACE says late bookings for Christmas Day surged

Kyle Patrick Camilleri Friday, 29 December 2023, 10:02 Last update: about 3 months ago

Early indications for restaurants and hotels during the Christmas period were positive, President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) Tony Zahra told The Malta Independent.

Meanwhile, while the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) was reported as having said before Christmas that it was concerned by the sector’s outlook for the festive season, it told this newsroom that since then its members reported that there was a very late surge in bookings for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Regarding hotels, MHRA President Tony Zahra said that they had a good Christmas this year. Business is set to keep booming, he said, and “New Year’s is set to be even better.”

Zahra said that hotels’ “position is very satisfactory in comparison to 2019, which was the best year ever.”

As for restaurants, Zahra described how, according to the information it has gathered so far, “everyone had satisfactory results.” Regarding business on Christmas day specifically, Zahra remarked that while he cannot speak with absolute certainty before more extensive research is conducted, the MHRA “hasn’t met anyone who gave negative feedback.”

Through their short survey results, MHRA’s indications are that “more price-sensitive restaurants might have had lesser results in comparison to their own previous results.”

Following this, he said that it is not as easy to forecast restaurants’ performance for the New Year’s celebrations, however, he noted that it is normal for this to correlate with the quantity of hotel bookings during the same period.

These indications will be confirmed in further detail next month following the publication of an MHRA comprehensive survey.

This newsroom also spoke to the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE). The Times of Malta had, on 23 December, reported the association as saying that sales during this holiday season slowed down in comparison to previous years. ACE had found that restaurants are experiencing higher footfall (more customers), however business is slowing down due to a lower average spend per customer.

ACE’s Vice President Matthew Pace remarked to the Times of Malta that “where usually customers would opt for a bottle of wine, they are now ordering by the glass.”

Pace, speaking with this newsroom, said that since then ACE has received reports from its members that there was a very positive late surge in bookings for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. Most told ACE that these three consecutive dates were even better than 2022, Pace said.

Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day were thankfully very positive, he said. This was especially the case for catering establishments in Valletta. Pace said that the “concerted effort made over the past years to make our capital city the ultimate commercial city” is creating “a very positive domino effect” for catering establishments located there. He described how the restaurant community is maximizing the large influx of people flocking to the capital with Valletta’s Fairyland at Triton Square and the bright Christmas decorations found all across the city’s streets.

ACE will complete their in-depth survey of the year in the coming weeks to see if total revenue for restaurants has increased, decreased, or retained a similar margin to last year. However, ACE has concerns due to inflation and freight charges.

“We are all aware that we live in an inflation era and had the government not insulated us by subsidizing our energy tariffs, we would be in dire straits,” Pace said.

ACE’s reaction to public outcry

The Association for Catering Establishments was asked to react to the public backlash following the article published in the Times of Malta, where ACE attributed restaurants’ struggles to inflation, online commenters were quick to call out profiteering within the local restaurant industry.

When questioned about these public criticisms, Pace told The Malta Independent that while they respect everyone’s opinion, “it is grossly unfair to be judged in such a manner.” In this regard, he said that there exists a public perception that owning or running a restaurant is a fast track to riches, which he said was not the case within their “cost-burdened” industry.

Pace referenced Malta’s “excessive overpopulation of over 3100 catering establishments.” He told this newsroom that the vast majority of them offer “great service and excellent value for money,” though the public judge the industry on those who are not as professional.

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