09 June 2005

The Web

Service with no smile

It is absolutely nonsensical for the Malta Tourism Authority to dedicate resources and energy to purchase uniforms for all its staff, at a time when tourism is passing through a bad patch with hoteliers still struggling to fill beds for the summer.
The situation in tourism is much more problematic than the Prime Minister and his tourism minister would like to admit. In today’s interview a leading hotelier says that Government is being misled by its own departments as to the true state of the industry.
This is not the first time that Government has been caught saying one thing while the people on the ground are experiencing a totally different situation.
At a time when hoteliers should be preparing for the lean winter season by trying to entice travellers to come to Malta, they are still struggling to fill in their beds for the summer.
Reality bites and Government had better wake up fast. Countries such as Tunisia, Turkey and Egypt are offering cheap exotic holidays and given the very low capital investment required and meagre wages paid in these countries it would be very difficult for Malta’s hoteliers to compete on price.
Instead, Malta has to compete on value added, by giving tourists a good reason to come here. But to do this the Malta Tourism Authority has to be a lean and dynamic organisation, constantly creating niche markets and selling them in an effective manner abroad.
Today the MTA is a bureaucratic monster sucking in funds without delivering the right goods. Hoteliers complain that not enough of MTA’s budget is spent on advertising and marketing with the bulk going towards wages and administrative expenses.
And although the MTA is pencilled in as one of the agencies Government wants to reform, the process is nowhere near completion.
Indeed, it has stalled. The MTA board is currently performing staff reviews for profiling purposes but this exercise won’t end until September. This is unacceptable and probably a recipe for no reform. And purchasing uniforms for all the staff at a time when it is not yet clear whether all employees will be kept on board just adds insult to injury.
The MTA has to lose much of its fat, starting from the exorbitant salary of its managing director, who is paid more than the Prime Minister and finishing with its overseas offices.
Less people, less paperwork, more creativity and a re-channelling of funds into marketing and advertising should be the maxim for reform.
The tourism industry cannot wait for months on end for Government to undertake the necessary changes. It has been a year since the ministry commissioned Deloitte and Touche to draw up a report on MTA and propose a road map for reforms.
Time is running out fast and unless action is taken we can very well expect to see hotels shedding jobs in the winter, which would be a very undesirable thing.
Francis Zammit Dimech has to get involved hands on. Inaugurating exhibitions and cultural events should be secondary to the Tourism Minister’s portfolio even if he seems to enjoy these social events.
Zammit Dimech should be asking himself whether Malta was reaping value for money from its overseas advertising. He should be querying whether in today’s day and age it makes sense to have overseas offices. He should be asking himself why the number of tourists from Italy is nowhere near desired levels despite Italian being Malta’s unofficial third language. Zammit Dimech should be worrying about Malta’s over reliance on the British market. He should be scratching his head and wondering what the MTA is doing to try and attract more tourists during the winter.
Malta cannot wait for tourists to drop in. The time when British ex-servicemen and their families came here for nostalgic reasons is almost over. These are a dying breed and today the country has to fight tooth and nail to convince people to come here rather than fly to some other destination.
The MTA is not in a position to conduct that fight. It is bloated, uncreative and detached from those operating in the industry.
When situations such as these arise, politicians should step in and set the record straight. Unfortunately, what we have today is pussyfooting not stepping in.

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Editor: Kurt Sansone
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