2 - 8 May, 2001

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Travel not hit by recession
'cowboy' agencies ruining the business

By Ray Abdilla

If the country is going through a sort of recession at the moment, it is surely not affecting the Maltese travelling community.

The winter season did very well and could be hailed as one of the best in recent years. Many Maltese are choosing skiing holidays and mainly they are going to Italy to practice this kind of sport.

Joseph Azzopardi, Vice-President of the Malta Association of Travel Agencies (MATA), confirmed this when speaking to The Business Times. He explained that the Maltese have adopted a culture of going abroad for a holiday practically every year. Despite the fact that skiing and the mountains have increased in popularity with the Maltese, England is still by far the destination that the Maltese go for.

He said that there could be some agencies that are not happy with their number of bookings, or that they are not seeing the increase being made, for the superfluous amount of travel agencies on the Islands.

"Although we are not against competition, it is not fair that many open without even having the know-how of running such a business. There are cases when a garage has been converted into a travel agency for the sake of the business.

"That is not fair on the others. One must keep in mind that the travel industry is practically the biggest activity in the world and one could not take it lightly," Mr Azzopardi said.

Over the last three years, some 60 new travel agencies have opened their doors to the public and the number now stands at 240. If you multiply that by 2,000 it exceeds the population.

He also said that there are many individuals who are organising tours to different places without having a licence. This goes against the law but they keep in doing it because foreign airlines sell them tickets without even verifying who they are.

These are called ‘cowboys’ by travel experts and although there are regulations they still exist and even grow in numbers.

Most of these individuals are teachers and do it during their summer holidays and there are also government employees who have got the time to organise tours.

MATA’s Vice-President said that during the Amitex fair there such people outside the building distributing leaflets for tours, these people being individuals without any travel licence.

He said that whilst those who participated in the Amitex tour had spend hundreds of Liri to sell their product, people attending the fair were already bombarded with leaflets on tours before entering the fair.

He said that this is unfair competition and something has to be done. In fact it is not the first time that these complaints were reported to the authorities. Mr Azzopardi also said that the high airport taxes are not doing the business any good. He said that ‘extra holiday’s’ have suffered since the introduction of these high rate taxes.

Many travel agents many a time decrease the prices for some of the destinations but these special fares do not always work well because paying Lm25 tax to fly to England will once again put the price up, even if the ticket costs just Lm79.

Another competitor for the local travel agent is the internet. Mr Farrugia said that many locals are browsing through the internet and booking a holiday.

The estimated number of Maltese going abroad in 1999 increased by 12,806 or 7.7 per cent and reached 179,547. Although the MATA have no records at her disposal it looks like as if it will reach the 200,000 mark.

Following trends established in earlier years, August is usually the preferred month for travel for both Maltese nationals as well as other passengers. But December, January and February is also on the rise.


The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt