Tourism Minister Francis Zammit Dimech hit back at his critics saying he is willing to take full political responsibility for his actions. “My actions are for all to see, I have taken the bull by the horns and I mean action.”
But he underlined that the question of low cost airlines was not a decision that he could take alone, there was the cabinet and it would have to take a decision.
Zammit Dimech repeated, a decision needed to be taken over low-cost airlines, but he insisted that a decision on the matter had to be collective, referring to a Cabinet which appears to be divided down the middle over the introduction of cut-price airlines into Malta.
He was clearly not commenting over a divergence at cabinet level on how to tackle the matter.
It is obvious that the hawkish Austin Gatt who has Air Malta under his wings does not favour low cost airlines, but it is also abundantly clear that the Prime Minister must now take a decision.
Zammit Dimech’s reactions came as a direct reaction to what hotelier Winston J. Zahra told sister newspaper Business Today in last week’s newspaper, where he insisted that the Minister should take responsibility for his actions.
Zahra is the owner of a chain of hotels from five down to three star and they have been taking the brunt of drops in arrivals.
But Minister Zammit Dimech is reluctant to point any fingers at anyone in particular. “I have no intention of pointing fingers here, I listen to everyone and act in the general interest,” he said.
Visibly egged on by me as to why he felt the need to comment, Zammit Dimech coughed up the MHRA report which was conducted by Deloitte last week.
“I will quote from the report directly, in quarter four of 2005 the number of nights generated in 5 star hotels was up by 3.8% and in 4 star by 2.7%.”
He admitted that CHOGM had left an impact but he continued again by quoting the MHRA report:
“Room occupancy levels improved slightly all over last year in the 5 star and 4 star sectors but fell in the 3 star sectors. And what is known as Average Achieved Room Rates (AARR) has increased across the board.”
Zammit Dimech is clearly angry at the bad press but he is not a stranger to counter spin.
“We have taken on board many of the suggestion drawn up by the report on restructuring MTA, and we have worked hard on repositioning our branding.”
He stands by the MHRA report to sustain his argumentation that not all is gloomy.
“I am the first one to admit that there is much room for improvement, but just look what is happening in other markets.
“ Italy, Scandinavia, Austria and Switzerland have all shown declines.”
Zammit Dimech was definitely reacting to general doom and gloom perception further fuelled by the Winston J. Zahra comments.
On the subject of reforms he explained how he had followed Deloitte & Touche’s targets by closing down overseas offices as suggested and reforming MTA.
Armed with more figures and more numbers he pointed how the tourism campaign in the UK had changed and its budget increased and he said there had been more arrivals by several thousands.
Zammit Dimech said: “Look again at the MHRA figures and report and you will see that the figures are not as bad as others picture them to be.
“I am aware that the hotel industry is concerned over low-cost carriers, and yes a decision needs to be taken, but as has been the case in the government this decision will have to be taken collectively. But low cost airlines is not the only issue here.”
“On my part I am sparing no effort to have the earliest decision possible and I have been assured by the prime minister that a decision will be taken in the coming days.”
And as the brief interview was about to end without even a vague mention of the Labour party, he said: “I am curious to know what the latest position of the Labour opposition is on low cost carriers!”
Francis Zammit Dimech was talking to Saviour Balzan