Losing out on a summer of tourism could be a ‘death knell’ for tourism agencies

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Losing out on a summer of tourism this year could be a “death knell” for tourism agencies, the Federated Association of Travel and Tourism Agents (FATTA) told this newsroom.

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Robert Abela said that Malta will face problems if the country loses out on a summer of tourism. “If we are cautious, open gradually and wisely, then we will assure a summer of tourism and a good future for the country”, he said.

The Malta Independent contacted Iain Tonna, President of FATTA, to ask for his thoughts on the Prime Minister’s statement, as well as what hopes he has for tourism this summer.

Tonna said that FATTA is hopeful that this summer will act as a restart button for tourism in Malta, however he is not expecting hordes of tourists to make their way to the islands.

“Based on information at the moment, it looks like we would expect between 30-40% of the number of tourists that came to Malta in 2019”.

Malta saw 2.8 million inbound tourist trips in 2019, with total tourism expenditure estimated at €2.2 billion.

Tonna also said that tourism this summer depends on the decisions made by European authorities, in terms of announcing new measures, or relaxing others. Nevertheless, Tonna hopes that Malta will welcome tourists come June and that, by that time, the green pass will be implemented into Malta’s travel protocols.

He also said he is pleased that the Prime Minister has emphasized that tourism is the main driver of Maltese economy and acknowledged how the wage supplement has greatly helped manage their finances. However, he said that there are still costs that tourism agencies had to incur independently, which has put them in a “precarious financial situation”.

He added that the vouchers issued by the government last summer injected €45 million into the tourism sector, however the tourism agencies “did not benefit at all” from the revenue from the vouchers.

Tonna said that FATTA has no plans to organize mass events to incite tourists to use their services. “We are appreciative that it seems this time round the authorities are finding a balance and we would only want to promote and operate in accordance with guidelines provided by the Ministry of Tourism and the health authorities”, he said. “I think, in general, most of us can live without boat parties, mass concerts and mass parties, if that’s what it takes to rebuild sustainably”.

Tonna also raised his hopes that the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions market (MICE) would be revived this summer.

“There’s this perception that events means big parties, but when we talk about events in our industry, we’re also talking about small meetings where physical protocols and social distancing can be observed”, Tonna said. “These are the events that we’re focusing on and trying to push forward first – the small ones. Even in our sector, we don’t want to focus on mass events, but rather on smaller events which are very controllable and attractive and which will also help us in the low seasons”.

This newsroom also contacted Deputy President of Chamber of SMEs Philip Fenech to ask what his hopes are for small and medium enterprises this summer.

Like Tonna, Fenech said that the situation is promising, but largely depends on the situation of countries overseas.

“The situation is fluid all over, but the incentives that came out are very encouraging to safeguard the tourism industry”, he said. “We can do our share by being prepared and having the country do its utmost for safety so that it will be considered a green destination. At the same time, other countries need to be ready to send tourists”.

Fenech noted that that the United Kingdom – which represents Malta’s biggest travel market – has pushed their flights to Malta to June, rather than mid-May. This delay shows that everything is subject to change, and that Malta’s predictions for opening two weeks after the opening of British airlines has affected the plans of SMEs and Malta’s tourism agencies.

He added that if Malta misses out on a summer of tourism, the tourism industry will substantially affect other spheres of the Maltese economy.

Tourism is “not only about people going to hotels and restaurants, it’s about all those people who supply them, employ them and those who generally indulge in the retail economy. When you consider it, the spill-overs of tourism are enormous, with 70% of all retail depending directly or indirectly on tourism”.

Fenech hopes that Malta can steadily move towards receiving tourists in June.

“We do know that it’s not going to be like 2019, it’s not like we are going back to those figures just yet. But we can build up slowly with safeguards like the vaccine, which we didn’t have last summer. It is important, however that we still remain guarded and do our part to control the spread of the virus”.

This newsroom also contacted the Union of Pilots for their thoughts on tourism this summer, however they refused to comment on the situation.

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