27 MARCH 2002

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French tourism down but not alarming

By Ray Abdilla

Although Malta’s leading tour operator responsible for incoming French tourists has experienced a drop of around 7.5% following the 11 September attacks, he is confident that the sector is already showing signs of picking up.

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.
In the first six months of last year, the number of tourist arrivals declined by 4,442 or 0.8 per cent to 528,974 from 533,416 in the same period last year.

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.

Malta’s 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 Malta’s 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 Malta’s 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 world’s 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 Malta’s priorities as regards the development of its tourism product.

The minister’s stay in Paris had included a meeting with the French director of tourism Hughes Parrant, who was briefed on Malta’s aspirations in relation to the French tourism market. Mr Parrant pledged support for Malta’s efforts to improve its tourism product, including the availability of experts on various aspects of Malta’s 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.

Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt