Hotels are registering positive signs that 2022 will be significantly better than the preceding two years, which were marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, with bookings for the coming months being received at a rate unseen since 2019.
Difficulty with finding the right human resources and continuing restrictions on travel and events continue to weigh heavily on the sector, however.
Tony Zahra, president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, said that indications are “very positive”, with a high number of bookings for April and May. Later on, the situation is murkier, he says, with the pandemic phenomenon of very short lead times seemingly carrying over into this year.
Mr Zahra says however that hoteliers have mostly accepted that tourists are unwilling to book holidays far in advance, in view of the uncertainty that still grips the world, especially with the onset of the war in Ukraine.
Michael Stivala, one of the owners of St Hotels Ltd, a company with five hotels on the Sliema-Gżira promenade, said reservations are flowing in at a good rate, with bookings already coming in for the summer.
“It’s looking to be a very good summer,” he said.
However, he pointed out that if bookings continue coming in at the rate seen so far, labour will be a major issue. He cited the “very bureaucratic” process involved in getting workers from abroad, and said that although he is in contact with authorities to resolve the issue, no progress has been made so far.
Janice Baldacchino, a director at Baldacchino Group, which owns the Kempinsky Hotel in Gozo, said that from April onwards bookings look “very promising”, indicating a strong recovery.
The biggest issue she sees are restrictions related to COVID-19, which she fears are making Malta less attractive than its Mediterranean competition.
Her concern is echoed by Chiara Hensel Ellul, director of sales and marketing at the Marriott Hotel & Spa in St Julian’s, who asks: “Would you rather go to Malta, or to somewhere like Greece where there are no restrictions?”
She points out that such restrictions are a major put off for leisure travellers wishing to explore a destination to the full extent.
Ms Hensel Ellul says she agrees with comments made by Malta International Airport CEO Alan Borg on Tuesday, who asked what Malta is waiting for to remove limits on travel.
Rules introduced by the Maltese Government in July 2021, which imposed a quarantine on incoming travellers who are not fully vaccinated, led to 6,000 bookings being cancelled in a week. The move was seen by many as the main contributor to a disappointing summer – something operators will be keen to avoid repeating.
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