4 SEPTEMBER 2002
Tourism Minister Michael Refalo last week renewed the appointment of Dr. John C. Grech as Chairman of the Malta Tourism Authority for a further three years. In a short ceremony and in the presence of MTA board members, Minister Refalo recalled that although Dr. Grech had officially commenced his first term as Chairman in September 1999, in the preceding months as Chairman designate Dr. Grech had taken part in discussions and contributed to the drafting of the relative legislation and the preparation of MTAs organisational set-up.
"Since then," said the Minister, "Dr Grech has led the Malta Tourism Authority with a clear direction and instilled in MTA staff a spirit of innovation and a high work ethic. I am certain that under your leadership the Authority will attain more notable achievements to the greater benefit of our hospitality industry and the Maltese people."
Minister Refalo said that that was as good a time as any to underline the Authoritys main achievements since its establishment and also to update the media and the public on the general situation in tourism.
The Authoritys Board is made up of persons nominated by the various trade interests as well as Air Malta. All nominees come from the private sector. This holds good both for the MTA main Board and for the Authoritys four Directorates. "By setting up the Authority and ensuring the total presence of the private sector on its boards Government has kept to its electoral pledge and given the private sector a strong voice in the planning and management of tourism as well as a privileged position from where to exercise a determining influence on Government policy."
Dr Refalo recalled that the Authority has all Directorates set up and working and that it had undertaken a massive review of subsidiary legislation. "You have put aside sixties legislation no longer applicable to the industrys modern profile and conditions and substituted it by enactments that truly reflect todays requirements."
He added that the year had developed as forecast and while performance to May, though relatively better than our competitors, has shown lower volume. Results from June onwards show that, with tourism from Germany being the main exception, the industry was well on the way to recovery.
"MTA, Air Malta, the private sector and Government have all played a part to engineer this revival, but the 11th September effect will be with us for some time in the way of loss of air seat capacity, once withdrawn not re-instated, loss of airlines flying to Malta, of tour operators that crashed, and of traffic trimmed by tour operators to sustainable proportions. You cannot put bums on seats if the seats are not there!"
Minister Refalo said that during its first three years of existence MTA had drawn up plans and followed strategies to keep the industry in line with modern developments and prepare itself well to meet the challenges of globalisation, of recessionary trends in some of our main markets, and not least Maltas membership of the European Union and 11th September aftermath.
"Of course there will always be people who criticise, criticism is of itself salutary and welcome, but criticism must be based on sound information and not on knee jerk reactions, misconceptions and unsustainable information."
Minister Refalo said that volume was relatively important but it was certainly not the main benchmark to measure a destinations success. "MTA knew early on that 2002 would be a difficult year and as early as December 2001 estimated that 2002 totals would be around 1.1 million, namely, 80,000 less than in 2001. I had made this estimate public on December 10th during the Budget debate."The Minister recalled that through its Directorates MTA has focused on instiling a greater sense of discipline in the industry, helped to improve the product by directly assisting Local Councils and organizing popular events which had drawn crowds of visitors and Maltese, and also assisted in the development of tourisms human resource complement.
Niche markets have successfully been penetrated and expanded especially in the conference and incentive, yachting, diving and language learning fields.
The Minister said that MTA had not shied back from taking difficult decisions and mentioned the removal of the TOSS exchange rate subsidy scheme and the application of policies to ensure sustainable control of leisure accommodation projects.
"The TOSS subsidy scheme had outlined its use and become economically unsustainable and results to date prove the decision to be correct, while the slowing down and limiting of development, although unpopular, was necessary to support the industrys drive towards all round sustainability."
The Minister said that tourism was the islands main economic life line and while he appreciated the support of colleague Ministers whose Ministries had contributed much to the further development and improvement of the product, "There is however much more to do especially to convince each and every Maltese and Gozitan to play a more positive role in support of tourism, and industry upon which we depend so much."
The Minister thanked all those who since 1999 have served on MTAs Board and Directorates for the valid contribution which they have given to the industry.