23 August 2006

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Business Today

Tackling the tourism crisis

The appointment of yet another committee to advise the minister of tourism on the best way forward is nothing but an admission of weakness by the current administration in the face of the serious problems hounding the tourism industry.
The idea of having the private sector co-operating with government to improve the tourism product is good but the question begs: why on earth did we need another committee to channel the private sector’s know-how when taxpayers’ money is already being poured into a tourism authority that already has private sector involvement within its structures?
It is also perplexing to see Minister Zammit Dimech’s major detractors in the industry, Winston J. Zahra, Michael Zammit Tabona and Kevin Decesare, sitting on a new board chaired by the very same man they have asked to resign over falling tourist numbers.
Is this Zammit Dimech’s final attempt to try and neutralise his opposition? What role will the official body of the tourist industry, the MHRA be playing within this consultative council? How does this council’s work complement the MTA’s?
It looks like the new council will be duplicating the work that should be done by the authority. As things stand, the MTA could very well be downsized, saving the country millions of pounds. Not to be understated is the role of the inter-ministerial committee on tourism chaired by the Prime Minister. What has been the impact of this committee?
If it has left an impact, it is negligible.
In the face of a serious crisis, the minister should have got his team at the MTA to hammer out a short term strategy to tackle the immediate problems that will surface over the next 18 months and a complimentary medium to longer term strategy to put the industry on sustainable footing for the future.
Unfortunately, it appears government has lost the plot. The MTA is still grappling with a protracted restructuring exercise. The outgoing chairman’s insistence that his mission at the authority was accomplished has baffled observers since there has been no improvement at all in either tourist arrivals or nights spent or money poured into the economy. And with the authority now using funds to try and brand us Maltese rather than implementing intelligent marketing strategies in our core markets abroad, the situation is one big mess.
This is not to say that the industry itself does not share part of the blame. Over-pricing, bad service, poor food and a serious lack of customer care are also to blame for falling tourist numbers. The industry needs to get its act together.
It is true that a higher cost base primarily because of the fuel surcharge has eaten into the profitability of hoteliers but this should not be an excuse for bad service.
The livelihood of many people is hanging in the balance. The sector is passing through a dark moment. Hoteliers and operators in the sector must pull their socks up but government has to provide direction and leadership, two qualities that are seriously lacking at the moment.

GWU crisis
The atmosphere at the GWU has not been harmonious ever since Emanuel Micallef lost the leadership battle to Tony Zarb last October. Irrespective of what the current secretary general says, what is happening at the union resembles a purge of those who lent their support to Micallef.
Until today it is not yet clear what prompted the union executive to vote for Josephine Attard Sultana and Francis Buttigieg’s removal. And even if their removal was taken by a democratic vote the whole process stinks. A vote is only democratic when those voting are informed of the choices at hand and if they are free to cast their preference with no fear of retribution. It is doubtful whether these conditions were met.
Something is seriously wrong with the GWU and Zarb knows all too well that when the members he represents withdraw their trust from the union it is time to get back to the drawing board, understand the reasons why and address them in a positive manner.
The fact that port workers, a militant faction of the union, prefer to trust an outside lawyer to negotiate on their behalf with government rather than the union’s leadership goes a long way to show the deterioration within union structures.
What is happening within the GWU is a shame, especially at a time when the country is screaming out for strong leadership.
But the problems at the union may run deeper than the most obvious division between moderates and militants. The problem is possibly a clash of personalities that goes back to 2003 when the attempt to force Tony Zarb out of the driving seat failed. It is unfortunate for the union’s members and the country at large that the GWU has been reduced to such a pitiful state. The union’s internal strife is also worrying for employers since they might not have the certainty that what they are discussing with the respective section secretaries will not be overruled by the central administration.
Attard Sultana’s dismissal has created instability and dented the union’s credibility.

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