19 January 2005

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Lm50 to fly to Gozo, hoteliers have their doubts

By Matthew Vella

Just a short airlift across the island of Malta, and yet Gozo still enjoys just a fraction of Malta’s tourist arrivals and investment. It’s a rueful observation from Gozitan entrepreneur Victor Borg, whose Ta’ Cenc Hotel in Sannat ranks amongst the top getaways on Malta’s sister island.
Now Gozo has been regaled with a revamped helicopter service, but at a Lm50 return fare for tourists travelling between Malta International Airport and Gozo, according to the Nationalist Party media organ In-Nazzjon, the price for a Gozitan getaway has become somewhat steep.
The Ministry for Competitiveness has confirmed with The Malta Financial and Business times that a return flight to Gozo on the Helicopteros Del Sureste, the Spanish company chosen to operate the service, Malta-Gozo link will cost Lm50. Gozitan residents, students, and the elderly, will be able to travel on a reduced return of Lm26.
“It is very expensive,” Victor Borg remarks. “Accessibility to any destination is the most important thing. It has to be easily accessible money-wise, safe and comfortable. If prices are not competitive, it will die a natural death,” Borg ominously remarks.
The Spanish company beat two rival bids for the Malta-Gozo airlink, after Malta Air Charter ceased operations back in October following successive losses and sub-standard helicopters. The other bidders were Italian company Eli Fly and British company Veritair.
The Lm50 return fare to Gozo has, however, already sowed doubts within the island’s tourism industry. George Fenech, director of the Mgarr Hotel, points out that travellers can go to London for the same price. “I think it is somewhat excessive. As an MTA member, I think the matter will be up for discussion.”
Xavier Stocker, director at the Kempinsky San Lawrenz, told this newspaper that although he had not been yet officially informed of the price, he was expecting that the Malta-Gozo helicopter fare would be at a competitive price, “which was understood as being on the level that it had been, Lm38 return. We are very happy to have the operation back. We were sad that the service had been interrupted. But the price has to be competitive, otherwise it will not work.”
Even in the days of increased budgetary spending by the Malta Tourism Authority, the Gozitan tourism landscape has to face a reality of trying to make ends meet as much as possible during its low and mid-peak seasons, respectively the autumn and winter seasons, and in Spring.
“It is especially important for Gozo that tourists are attracted here during the low and mid-seasons, where our major concern here is to minimise our losses as much as possible, since we make our profits in summer. Everyone in the tourism industry knows this. The only way tourists can be attracted during these seasons is to make prices as competitive as possible. So it wouldn’t seem to make sense business-wise, to be charging the same summer fare during the low season,” Victor Borg told this newspaper.
The new helicopter service is expected to offer an average of 20 flights a day in summer and eight daily flights in winter on helicopters taking a maximum of 13 persons, starting from 21 March.
“The service would have to run on costs, and not on turnover, especially in winter. A helicopter that carries either eight or 13 passengers will have the same costs. So they should make sure that every trip would be full. With Lm50, there is no way they are going to achieve that.”

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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