Malta’s diving sector has been pushed aside throughout the Covid-19 pandemic and will take years to recover, Simon Sciberras, chairman of the Professional Diving Schools Association, told The Malta Business Weekly
In 2019, the local diving industry generated around €38 million, with almost eight per cent of tourists who came to Malta visiting for scuba diving purposes, figures the operators believe they were unlikely to come anywhere near in 2020 and 2021.
The costs throughout the last year remained high for diving school owners, with some closing entirely. “Sadly, we have seen some schools shut up shop altogether,” Sciberras said. “Through ongoing closures and restrictions, most diving centres continued to face fixed monthly costs of around €4,550 throughout the pandemic. To make matters worse, the majority of the entities had no option but to hand out refunds to tourists who cancelled their visit to Malta. Most of the refunds that have been handed out were to the tune of around €4,000 each.”
What’s more, owners have massive overheads, as the collateral is extensive. Think diving boats, trucks, hubs, insurance, and all related equipment. None of this stuff comes cheap, Sciberras added.
Such investments have further drained the industry operators who are already cash-flow tight, with several noting that they had already dug deep into their savings. “Right now, people are not convinced to make a booking commitment. In fact, our books are relatively empty for the summer months. On top of this, we have the UK not green-lighting us. This is one of our biggest segments of visitors,” Sciberras said.
“Although we are now back to work, we rely heavily on international group bookings, and until this week, we could only have four people on one boat. Now this limit has been increased to six, but it’s just not sustainable.”
Help has been given recently in the form of vouchers to prospective divers visiting the islands, but Sciberras explained more work needs to be done to sustain the sector, and not just make empty promises. “It is vital to invest further in marketing to promote Malta as an ideal location among the international diving community and not continue to lose out to competing countries. Now is the time for action.”
Sciberras described the toll many talented professionals leaving the islands has had on the sector.
“At the start of the pandemic, we saw many schools having no option but to lay off their seasonal staff for good. We must not neglect the fact that many of our instructors are not Maltese. Our shores have long attracted some of the best experts in the world. Now we are feeling the effects of a shortage of talent in the area. Although we work hard to build local interest, who will be the next instructors? Right now, many of us are struggling to find skilled professionals. It’s going to take us a very long time to get back to where we were before Covid-19.”