19 MARCH 2003

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Refalo warns of risk to tourism as non-EU member

Speaking on Friday Tourism Minister Michael Refalo presented a strong case for tourism within an EU membership scenario.
"By reducing departure tax to Malta and to the level applied to travel to EU member states, the United Kingdom has forfeited over Lm10 million in tax revenues," Dr Refalo cited when inaugurating the Malta Tourism Authority’s Mediterranean Food Festival at the Mediterranean Conference Centre.
Refalo explained how a destination’s competitiveness is measured on the degree of customer satisfaction, value for money and price. This latter factor carried the most weight in the UK’s very price sensitive market and a GBP15 increase in package price would negatively impact on tourism flow from the UK.
Warning that unless the electorate confirmed the Referendum result and endorsed Malta’s accession to the EU, he said, "The UK would have no option but to re-introduce a 300 per cent increase in departure tax on travel to and from Malta."
This, he said would make family group packages uncompetitive compared to Cyprus, Spain, Greece and Italy, our main competitors.
Fewer visitors from the UK, Malta’s main market, would negatively impact hotel occupancy and lead to job losses, Refalo explains. He adds that by joining the EU the tourist industry stands to gain substantially.
He also cited how the MHRA, GRTU, UHM and FATTA had all endorsed Malta’s accession to the EU, meaning that that both owners and entrepreneurs as well as hotel, restaurant and travel agency employees stand to benefit from accession.
Refalo said that investment in product development and improvement would bear little fruit if package prices were to become uncompetitive.
MTA should be congratulated for successfully driving proactive diversification and niche marketing policies, which delivered so many excellent results.
Tourism continues to pick up this year
Initial indications supplied by the Malta International Airport and national carrier Air Malta show that February 2003 was the fifth consecutive month that registered a year-on-year increase in tourism.
"This," comments Tourism Minister Michael Refalo, "is further proof that Malta’s tourism industry is well on the way to complete recovery."
Refalo added that although the impending war in Iraq had caused a stop in forward bookings and had prompted cancellations in the conference and incentive sector, he was convinced that the industry would regain its impetus and follow the pattern set during the 1991 Gulf War when Malta had once again registered a record year.
He also said that the majority ‘Yes’ vote in the Referendum on EU Accession had been well received by European tourism circles and that HOTREC had conveyed messages of congratulations and support to Malta’s tourism operators.
Official figures on the sector’s performance over the first ten months of last year show how the industry had continued, last year, to suffer to aftermath following 11 September 2001.
Tourism January-October
The National Statistics Office reports that between January and October 2002, gross earnings from tourism had dropped by 7.8 per cent from earnings recorded over the same time frame in 2001. Earnings in the sector reached Lm209.7 million - a decline of Lm17.3 million.
Between January and October 2002, tourism earnings per capita, meanwhile, decreased by Lm5.8 to Lm206.3 from the Lm212.1 registered a year earlier.
Over the time frame the number of tourists to these islands landing in Malta numbered 1,016,239 - a decline of 54,260, or five per cent, over the same period in 2001.
In the period under review, the British market declined by 11,689 or 3 per cent to 391,540 from 403,229 in the same period a year earlier. Other drops in arrivals were recorded from, amongst others, the German (-16,930), the Dutch (-6,047) the Swiss (-4,582), the Swedish (5,950), the French (-2,901), the Austrian (-3,678) the Libyan (-7,149) and the US (-249) markets.
In the ten-month period January-October 2002, arrivals from the Italian market increased by 6,856 to 91,765 from 84,909 a year earlier. Other increases in arrivals were recorded from the Russian (+1,151) market.
However, in October the number of tourist arrivals had actually increased by some seven per cent and reached 114,166 - an increase of 7,311 over the same month in 2001.
Arrivals from the British market, increased by 4,832 or 11 per cent to 48,050 from 43,218 in the same month a year earlier. Other increases were recorded from the Italian (+1,759), the German (+1,166), the US (+900), the French (+886), the Danish (+148) and the Belgian (+24) market.
During the month under review, arrivals from the Swedish market declined by 869 to 1306 from 2175 during the same month in 2001.
Cruise passengers
Over October the number of cruise passengers increased by 6,733 over the same month a year earlier and reached 51,602. In the first ten months last year the number of cruise passengers reached 308,896 an increase of 76,138 over the same period in 2001.
Tourist accommodation
During the first ten months of the year, tourists spent over 9.5 million days on the islands with an average of 9.34 days each, whereas during the same period of the previous year tourists spent around 10.7 million days with an average of 9.35 days per tourist.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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