27 MARCH 2002
Robert Arrigo, whose company brings 60,000 of the 80,000 French tourists into Malta, said that like every sector, French travel was hit by a slowdown following the events of 11 September, especially in conferences and incentives.
He said that around there was a drop of around 8,000 French tourists last year choosing to come to Malta.
"The biggest decrease was registered in the conference sector," Mr Arrigo, who is also Sliema mayor, explained. "This is a popular sector of French tourism, but following the 11 September attacks, the majority of the bookings were scrapped.
"On 10 September, 2001, I had sealed a number of chartered flights. To keep the bookings and avoid cancellations, I was forced to lower the prices.
He added that the downfall was only to be expected, but said that thankfully things were picking up and described the drop in incoming French tourists as "not alarming".
"Yes the French want to come to Malta and in great numbers, but the conferences sector will take more time to return to normal."
It is understood that since the French lowered their number of working
hours from 40 to 35, they have started to dedicate more time to their
holidays and leisure time. In fact the French are travelling much more
and Malta is also getting its fair share of French tourists.
But arrivals from the French market went up by 5,892 or 16.5 per cent to 41,652 from 35,760.
Politicians are now recognising the importance of French tourism. Three years ago Tourism minister Michael Refalo said that despite efforts to promote Malta and Gozo in France, the number of tourists arriving in Malta was too low.
Maltas performance in the French market from December 1998 to February 2002 revealed a monthly double digit percentage increase in volume.
But despite all the investment and effort which Maltas travel and hospitality sector has undertaken in France, when compared to the millions of French citizens who travel overseas for their holidays and conferences, the annual hosting by Malta of 70,000 or thereabouts, is a drop in the ocean.
Air Malta operates scheduled flights from three points of departure and Maltas open skies policy is an open invitation to French airlines to invest in parallel flight operations.
Former tourism minister Karmenu Vella had even visited France, and held various meetings with the Paris press and travel trade. The two sides discussed how they could improve and facilitate the flow of French tourists to Malta.
In Paris, Mr Vella also visited the offices of the NTOM and Air Malta, and together with national airline officials, held talks with the Accor Group, the worlds fourth largest hotel group. Members of the French travel trade press were also invited to a press conference given by Mr Vella, during which he outlined Maltas priorities as regards the development of its tourism product.
The ministers stay in Paris had included a meeting with the French director of tourism Hughes Parrant, who was briefed on Maltas aspirations in relation to the French tourism market. Mr Parrant pledged support for Maltas efforts to improve its tourism product, including the availability of experts on various aspects of Maltas cultural and historical heritage, and the provision of uniforms for historical re-enactments. Mr Vella also went to Nice.
It should be noted that in the year 2000, approximately 76,000 French
tourists visited Malta. This figure represents around 6.2% of the total
of tourist arrivals in Malta. The government has recognised the potential
of the French market, and would like to substantially increase this
figure. It is providing additional funding to the Malta Tourism Authority
for promotional activities while Air Malta has increased the number
of scheduled flights and seat capacity from Paris, and has introduced
flights from Lyon throughout the year.