Business still slow, essential goods stores seeing less customer spending – Chamber of SMEs CEO

Last Updated on Wednesday, 24 June, 2020 at 10:09 am by Andre Camilleri

While some sectors are moving back towards normality, in general business is still slow, the CEO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs Abigail Mamo told The Malta Independent. She also indicated that some businesses not originally hit by Covid-19 are now seeing a slowdown

While the government had allowed businesses to reopen after easing restrictive measures that came about due to Covid-19, in general businesses are still struggling, but the severity of the situation depends on the sector and even on the location, she said. Mamo explained that the Chamber has received mixed feedback from the different sectors, but did say that there is a level of positive movement.  

Non-essential shops however, such as clothes stores, are still in a bad way she said. “The retail sector still has a long way to go. Tourism dependent businesses are struggling obviously. Hotels and restaurants are moving into the domestic market as people will holiday in the country more than abroad.”

She also indicated new emerging situations that are of concern for other businesses that were not badly impacted by the virus.

During the peak of the Covid-19 outbreak, people, she said, stocked up on items from pharmacies, and thus people are not visiting them as often as they did prior. In addition, food stores, like supermarkets, butchers and fishmongers, have noted that people’s average spending level has decreased compared to what they used to spend pre-Covid-19. She noted that people could be going for cheaper products, but also mentioned the rise of online shopping for such goods, and how when physically visiting a supermarket, people might be enticed to buy more goods. In addition, online it is easier to compare the prices of products, she said.

She positively highlighted that events starting up again is a positive, adding that in the Maltese economy many sectors are tied together and enable other sectors to function. “Events create work for different sectors for example.”

In terms of restaurants, she said that week on week it is true that a rise in the number people eating out has increased, but turnover wise these establishments are still struggling. The demand, she said, is still not high, and seating capacity is still limited due to social distancing measures. “So if a restaurant cut out 50% of its seating capacity due to social distancing, it will still not be filling up those covers it has.”

In addition, Mamo explained, people are still testing the waters and fear the virus. “We expect the vouchers that will be issued by the government to help, and it could be that people might be waiting to receive them before going out for a meal.”

Valletta is a case of its own, Mamo said, highlighting that the situation there is very difficult. “Business is so slow in Valletta that it necessitated some specific measures. Still I don’t think it will be enough.”

Last Friday it was announced that the government is investing €750,000 over the summer period in order to breathe life back into Malta’s capital city. Measures relating to transport will also be introduced, including the removal of Controlled Vehicle Assessment (CVA) fees when parking within the city itself. Additionally, throughout the months of July and August, ferry connections between Valletta and Sliema or Cottonera will be free of charge from 6pm till 12am.

In addition, three free events per week throughout the summer that vary from musical festivals, to the Valletta Pageant of the Seas, street art exhibitions and performances will be held.

Mamo feels that this will not be enough, and that businesses will need to match these incentives in order to attract more people to the capital city. The problem, she said, is that Valletta was very dependent on cruise liners.

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