The time around the Santa Marija feast on 15th August, known as Ferragosto in Italy, has seen a surge in business across several sectors, helping prop up what many have described as a rather weak summer.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to act as a dampener on local businesses, with tourist arrivals a far cry from what was once considered normal and as restrictions on restaurants and events continue to bite, businesses welcomed the reprieve afforded by what was described by one restaurant as “a really good week”.
Philip Fenech, the vice-president resonsible for tourism affairs within the Chamber of SMEs, put the increased activity down to several factors.
“First,” he said, “it’s simply Ferragosto. People are on shutdown, they’ve saved up money and time to be able to enjoy this period. So really, it would have been worrying were it not a busy period.”
But the reasons go beyond that, with Mr Fenech pointing out that this increased activity is also the result of lower outbound flows of travellers, which means that many Maltese opted to spend their holidays in Malta.
“That does not only mean Gozo,” he says. “Hotels, restaurants and spas all over the country enjoyed a good week.”
He believes the COVID-19 vouchers had a part to play, with many individuals and families opting to save their vouchers for this week, so that they may enjoy weekend breaks at a hotel, for example.
Use of the vouchers had in fact been relatively slow until the beginning of August.
Another factor Mr Fenech believes is behind increased spending is the different age profile of the tourists visiting Malta.
“We are getting fewer teens, and many more young couples and small groups of friends in their mid to late 20s,” he says, “as well as more middle aged visitors.”
“All these,” he continues, “spend much more than teens do, so the overall spend is not as depressed as might have been feared, at least not when compared to the low numbers of arrivals.”
Asked whether Valletta in particular had experienced an uptick in business due to increased cruiseliner activity, with Grand Circle Travel’s Artemis and Costa Crociere’s Costa Firenze calling into Valletta Cruise Port on Wednesday, Mr Fenech said the cruise passengers “definitely” had an impact.
However, with restrictions on their free movement still in force, their impact was limited to a few particular establishments and locales within the capital, and was not as widespread as might have been hoped.
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Reuben Xuereb is Chairman and CEO of leading design, engineering and management firm QP