15 MAY 2002
CIT tourism on road to recovery
By Miriam Dunn
Although the conference and incentive sector of tourism was hit hardest after the 11 September tragedy, it is also the market that is making the quickest recovery.
Vice-president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, Winston Zahra Jr, told The Malta Financial and Business Times that the CIT sector has been continually picking up since mid-January after almost coming to a standstill straight after the twin towers disaster.
"We are reasonably confident about the future," he said. "Next year is looking positive; enquiries and bookings are promising."
Mr Zahra did, however, admit that there is a new tendency for companies to give less notice about bookings.
"What is known as the lead-time confirmation date is much shorter than it used to be," he explained. "Whereas in the past time-frame would be four to six months before dates of bookings, today they are nearer one or two months prior to them."
Mr Zahra believes the trend is due to economic uncertainty, both in general and also specifically related to the visiting companies own financial results.
Asked why the CIT sector was hit so hard in the wake of the 11 September tragedy, the MHRA vice-president explained that many companies based in Europe are part US-owned or have US interests.
"They were therefore affected by immediate travel bans," he said. "This, coupled with the economic uncertainty and impact of the attacks on the performance of many companies meant the sector ground almost to a halt."
Asked whether he believes enough is being done to help the sector in its recovery, Mr Zahra highlighted the joint marketing effort that the five-star hotels are making, alongside the advertising campaign spearheaded by the Malta Tourism Authority.
"A lot is being done," he said. "As always, the biggest issue is the state of the product the environment a problem I have highlighted for as long as I can remember!"
Silvio Debono, co-owner of the Grand Hotel Mercure Coralia San Antonio, confirmed that winter was difficult for the CIT sector.
"Although I am cautiously optimistic for the coming year, I believe this is more likely to materialise in a heavier demand in the final quarter of the year," he said.
Mr Debono added that he would have liked to see the authorities play a more active role in helping alleviate the effects of 11 September.
"Whilst the heavier marketing campaign undertaken by the MTA in collaboration with a financial contribution from both the industry and the government is commendable, almost nothing was done to address the airline industry," he said. "Prices remained substantially high and probably government could have come forward with some form of subsidy to help in the retention of charter flights."