27 January 2005

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MHRA concerned about Gozo's “exorbitant” helicopter trips
By Matthew Vella

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association have expressed their doubts as to the sustainability of the Malta-Gozo helicopter link, priced at Lm50 for non-Maltese residents, saying it was “extremely concerned” as to whether the agreement with Spanish company Helicopteros Del Sureste will prove to be sustainable.
The MHRA said it welcomed the agreement reached to reintroduce the helicopter service between Malta and Gozo, four months after the Malta Air Charter ceased operating the service.
“The association also notes that Helicopteros Del Sureste is a reputable company and believes it could offer a service of the highest level,” the MHRA said, but noted that the prices announced “are exorbitant”.
The prices for non-Maltese residents have, in fact, doubled from Lm27 return and Lm18 single to Lm50 and Lm30 respectively.
The MHRA also said that many issues such as the schedule and other procedures to be followed have not yet been finalised. “Consequently at this stage hoteliers are unable to make this announcement to their business partners or confirm any reservations, wit the result that the number of passengers expected to travel on the helicopter during Summer 2005 will be extremely lower than 2004.”
Speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times last week, Gozitan entrepreneur Victor Borg, whose Ta' Cenc Hotel in Sannat ranks amongst the top getaways on Malta's sister island, said the Lm50 ticket was “very expensive”.
“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 said.
George Fenech, director of the Mgarr Hotel, pointed 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, also told this newspaper that 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. 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.”
According to Victor Borg, it remains especially important for Gozo that tourists are attracted to the island during the low and mid-seasons, when the major concern is to minimise losses as much as possible, since the major profits are made 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.   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.”
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 prices for the helicopter service quoted in Parliament by Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono will be Lm30 one way and Lm50 return for ‘regular passengers' and Lm16 one way and Lm26 return for Maltese and Gozitan residents, elderly non-Maltese residents, and students, Maltese and non-Maltese. The company is also expected to offer special prices for frequent passengers and tourist operators.


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