Tony Zahra

Any attempt to solve the issue of Malta’s tourist capacity should be more holistic than simply putting a moratorium on new accommodation, according to Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association President Tony Zahra.

The moratorium was suggested by The Malta Chamber last week in a comprehensive tourism report for 2021.

The report stated that, assuming all things remain equal and all current and planned tourist accommodation projects are completed, Malta could have a licensed bed stock of 100,000 by 2030, leading to a surplus of 14.1 million bed nights that would result in lower profitability for the sector.

“The issue needs a lot more discussion. If you start putting quotas in place, where do you draw the line? Aside from putting a halt to new accommodation, would the moratorium also cover extensions to existing hotels, new AirBnB properties and unlicensed accommodation?” Mr Zahra asked.

Instead, Mr Zahra said, any strategy related to tourist accommodation should look at just how many tourists Malta can realistically accommodate. He used the Hypogeum temple as an analogy, pointing out that there used to be no restrictions on the number of daily visitors to the site, before the authorities eventually put a cap on visitors to preserve it.

Mr Zahra said the MHRA is currently compiling a carrying capacity report, whose aim was to identify bottlenecks from a bird’s eye view.

“You don’t start with a moratorium,” he reiterated.

Turning to the general outlook for the hospitality industry, Mr Zahra said that the figures in September and October were encouraging.

“Going into summer, we were hoping for at least 60 per cent of the number of month-on-month arrivals from June to December 2019,” he said.

To put that into context, inbound tourism between January and September in the last year before COVID hit, 2019, amounted to around 2.1 million visitors, while the same period this year amounted to 586,234 visitors, translating into just 27.5 per cent of 2019 figures released by the National Statistics Office.

While the rollout of the vaccine has spurred tourism and therefore the local hospitality sector, numbers are still a far cry from what they were. Still, September and October 2021 broke post-pandemic records for travel, signalling a return to normality.

Meanwhile, Mr Zahra said that, while it was still too early to make predictions about the Christmas period, the number of bookings have started to increase sharply.

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