The boat charter sector is in a depressed state at the moment, report charter operators, with local demand, bound as it is by several restrictions, not enough to make up for the tourism market.
BusinessNow.mt spoke to three boat charter operators to see how business is doing during these early days of summer, but all three said that the sector could not survive for long under current conditions.
“Demand is very, very weak,” reports Darren Cuschieri, of Malta Boat Charter.
“We depend on tourists, not locals, so until we start seeing something resembling normality in tourism we will continue suffering.”
Mr Cuschieri says that the restrictions in place to stop the spread of COVID-19 contribute to the low demand, with passengers on sailing boats limited to four households while motor boats are limited to half their capacity.
Additionally, masks have to be worn and certain boats like gullets, often used for sea-borne meals and drinks, cannot serve alcohol.
This has gutted demand from the domestic market, with most customers declining to book until restrictions are lifted and things become clearer.
David Anthony Gatt, who operates Sailing Charters Malta, agrees, saying that current market conditions are “very bad”.
He explains that factors inherent to the local market, combined with COVID-19 restrictions, have led to few bookings so far.
“The domestic market,” he explains, “is a weekend market, when people are off work, so it can never replace demand from tourists.”
In addition, Mr Gatt believes that many people with children would be wary of boarding a boat for the weekend with exams approaching, further limiting demand for charters.
“Few have started going to sea at this point,” he says, “and the few who come, come on the weekend.”
Echoing Mr Cuschieri, Mr Gatt says that yet another problem boat charter operators are facing is the restriction on gatherings to four households.
“This really means three households,” he explains, “since one would be the skipper.”
This has wiped out most of the demand from groups of colleagues, who were previously a key market for such operators.
“We used to have a lot of such business, of groups of 10 to 12 workmates in iGaming or other industries. So this has caused a lot of problems for us,” says Mr Gatt.
Malta Charters owner Jonathan Gambin reports a similar situation, saying that although they are relatively busy, the local market is simply not strong enough to cover expenses and sustain the business.
“I depend on tourism,” he says. “Without tourism, this industry will go downhill and we’ll need to close in the long run.”
Describing the situation as “complicated”, Mr Gambin explains that the majority of his clients are groups of six to seven people, families and small groups.
He says he backs a call made by the Malta Chamber of SMEs last week, in which it asked Transport Malta to waive registration fees for boats.
“It’s unfair,” he says. “Operators of boats registered with the Malta Tourism Authority have gotten their fees suspended, but we need to pay up as if everything is going well.”
“It’s not. We depend on tourism too.”
With Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Health Chris Fearne announcing that Malta reached herd immunity on Monday, and with new daily cases remaining in the single digits, it is not hoped that the 1st June reopening for tourism brings a boom to the sector.
Image: Sailing Charters Malta
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