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Operators of holiday accommodation in Gozo have come out against the measures announced yesterday by the Prime Minister that will see rentals subject to spot checks by Malta Tourism Authority officials.

The liability of licensees to a fine or even withdrawal of license if the number of guests is more than the amount specified in the license was particularly criticised, with operators saying they would be held liable for something out of their control.

All the operators we spoke to agreed with stronger enforcement in general, although the reaction to spot checks on holiday rentals by the authorities was mixed, as some said this would ruin the holiday experience for their guests.

However, they all disagreed that the fine should be borne by the owner of the license, and not those renting.

Jane*, who operates eight farmhouse rentals in Gozo, questioned how it could work. She explained that this was not an uncommon problem, and sometimes she does realise and confront guests for being more than they booked for.

“But then they say, ‘Oh, they just passed by for a visit, they’re not sleeping here’. How can I check that? Do I have to stay there outside the door like a watchdog to see who is coming in and going out? I can’t. It’s simply out of our hands.”

She will have all the details of every person with a reservation, with print outs of their identity document, not just of the person making a booking, but she remains worried about extra guests. “If others come, I don’t know what to do,” she said, sighing that “it’s a big problem”.

Another operator, Gozo Escape, noted that although an operator may check the number of guests on check in, there is no guarantee that no more come later.

Joseph Abela Fitzpatrick, who operates two farmhouses in Gozo, said he fully agrees with spot checks. “We can’t afford a replica of Christmas,” he said. However, he also disagrees that owners should be held liable.

“In my case, I live in Malta. How can I confirm the numbers? Do I go up to Gozo to check who’s staying? For how long?” He says the onus should be on the persons who booked.

He says he supports increasing controls. “There are those who are prudent, but then there are those who don’t care. People have to be disciplined – if the carrot does not work, the stick should be used. But the onus should be on the customer. Why should my license be at risk when I am not at fault?”

This sentiment was shared by Paul Scicluna, of Gozo Farmhouses, who said the situation is “totally unfair” on owners. “We register every individual staying at our property, but if they get someone else in, how would I know? They’re going behind my back, using my facilities for free without my permission. Why should I be held liable for that?”

“Why should I be held responsible for something I do not know about?”

He says the situation “could not be worse” and says the Gozo Tourism Association is putting pressure on the authorities for a better resolution.

He also criticised the “bad publicity” surrounding stays in Gozo, due to which reservations are being cancelled. “These aren’t even groups, they’re families. But because a stay in Gozo is being looked down on as an irresponsible activity, they’re now scared of coming.”

“Plus, no one wants police to come knocking on their door and checking on them, not usually, and especially not during a supposedly relaxing holiday.

Things aren’t helped by the general low level of activity due to the pandemic. Jane said the number of reservations was low this year, “very very low”.

“We are typically fully booked over the Carnival weekend, but we are at only 10 per cent this year.” She explains how, until three weeks ago, despite Carnival already being cancelled, she was receiving regular inquiries and was hoping for a strong showing.

“But when rumours started spreading that there’s going to be problems with staying in Gozo, the queries stopped, immediately.”

*Name has been changed upon request.

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