Coronavirus: Hotels hoping to be able to lure locals in summer

Hotels hoping to be able to lure locals in summer. But some operators believe local tourism would have ‘negligible effect’ on hotels’ economic survivability

The Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay in St Julian’s
The Corinthia Hotel St George’s Bay in St Julian’s

Hotels are hoping to attract Maltese “tourists” come summer as they struggle to keep afloat amid the likelihood of the island’s external borders remaining closed due to COVID-19, BusinessToday is informed.

However, the degree to which this will help with the drastic drop in income hotels have suffered is unclear.

Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association boss Tony Zahra told this newspaper that he agreed with efforts to attract Maltese customers to hotels, should government lockdown measures be relaxed as the warmer months approached.

Zahra said that this would be a start of a return to normality.

“We want to see some return to normality. [Attracting local customers] would also help relieved some of the pressures on the Maltese people, who have been forced to stay indoors for weeks on end in a bid to control the spread of the virus,” he said.

The hotel industry has been virtually forced to shut down after Malta’s border were closed to all inbound sea and air travel in an effort to control the coronavirus.

As one of the sectors most critically hit by COVID-19, the industry is receiving direct aid from the government in the form of the financing of a full five-day week at a minimum of €800 per month for all its workers.

“In view of the closure of the airport, the only alternative is domestic tourism,” Zahra said, “We need to get the engines started again... or we’re going to have a bigger problem on our hands than the one we already have.”

Zahra highlighted that the pandemic brought with it several unknowns, included not knowing whether there would be a second wave of viral spread, and the uncertainty about when a vaccine would become available.

The MHRA president remarked that this was causing people in industry to start getting “a bit desperate”. “No income is coming in, and there are bills to pay.”

Zahra said the MHRA was expecting that government aid be extended to cover the next months as the industry struggles with the pandemic’s effects.

He thanked Deputy Prime Minster and Chris Fearne for having managed the situation “very well” in the past weeks and called for a workaround to allow the hotel industry to be sustained in the coming months.

Tony Zahra
Tony Zahra

Effect of domestic tourism

Despite intentions to revitalise hotels through local tourism, a spokesperson for Corinthia Hotels – one of the biggest operators in the sector – cast doubts on how effective this would be.

“The viability of hotels in Malta depends solely on the return of international travel. Unlike larger countries, our home market is of a negligible size,” the Corinthia spokesperson told BusinessToday.

“Targeting this market as an immediate-term step will have little positive impact on our hotels,” the spokesperson warned, underscoring that hotels would continue requiring government assistance if they are to reopen to the domestic market.

“In fact, reopening hotels, with running costs returning back to normal but no meaningful income from international travel, could make matters worse unless it is done carefully, with full government support to ensure our workforce remains active and motivated,” the spokesperson said.

Vincent Degiorgio, executive director for db Hotels – which operate the Seabank and San Antonio hotels – emphasised that the quicker such establishments opened their doors, the better it would be.

“The aim is to restart operations as early as possible. Let’s also keep in mind that many hotels also run restaurants, which are more likely to attract local customers if restrictions are lifted,” he said.

Degiorgio added that the continued provision of government aid would be important should lockdown measures not be relaxed in the coming weeks.

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