Global spike in COVID cases bring tourism industry to its knees

Uncertainty within the local tourism industry is growing by the minute, as foreigners - and locals - cancel their bookings amid a surge in COVID-19 cases gobally, BusinessToday has learned


Uncertainty within the local tourism industry is growing by the minute, as foreigners - and locals - cancel their bookings amid a surge in COVID-19 cases gobally, BusinessToday has learned.

Tourism minister Clayton Bartolo told this newspaper that although Malta had gotten its COVID strategy right - being among the first countries to reach herd immunity, as well as prompty implementing a nationwide vaccination programme - it was now suffering the effects of other countries lagging behind in their efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.

“Although the tourism industry is seeing solid feedback from among locals, foreign business has taken a big hit,” he said. “We now need to remain cautious and to maintain the balance that we have found to ensure businesses survive the pandemic.”

Tony Zahra, president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, agreed.

“Restaurants have registered an encouraging number of bookings for Christmas and New Year, despite rising numbers of daily COVID cases registered thus far,” he said.

He warned however, that this could change at any time if cases, hospitalisations and deaths increased considerably.

Zahra confirmed that accomodation bookings by foreigners had dropped to zero.

“As more and more countries reintroduce restrictions and lockdowns, any foreigners who had booked accomodation in Malta have cancelled their reservations and we are of course seeing no new business at the moment,” he said.

Malta on Wednesday registered a record 582 cases in the previous 24 hours, with two deaths recorded. This is the highest number of cases Malta has registered in a single day since the start of the pandemic.

Total number of deaths attributed to COVID-19 now stand ar 473.

MHRA CEO Andrew Agius Muscat said that all of Malta’s important source markets for tourism, including the UK, Italy, Germany and France, had dried up completely.

“And there are no signs that things will be getting any better in the near future,” he said. “With things changing by the hour, the uncertainty among operators is growing.”

Agius Muscat said that the government had already agreed a month’s extension of benefits granted to operators in the tourism industry to help mitigate the  effects of the loss of business and to forestall staff dismissals.

“We will be meeting the government again next month to discuss the situation and to examine options that can be adopted should the situation worsen” he said.

He said that operators in the tourism industry were not after government handouts for the sake of it, but it was evident that Maltese businesses - like others abroad - could not survive the pandemic without government assistance.

The tourism industry contributes 30% of Malta’s GDP - directly and indirectly - so the whole country’s economy would suffer if the industry had to endure another long period of uncertainty.

“Foreign business is at a standstill but some local events are still happening,” Agius Muscat said. “With authorities warning people to be cautious and with the rising number of cases, this too could change quickly.”

He said the good communication channels with the government and other authorities were crucial in getting the industry to this point, following the onset of COVID-19.

“The results of the cooperation between all parties involved are evident today, and the sector has survived to face another day, for now,” he said.

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