Claire Zammit Xuereb is the Hospitality and Care Director for AX Group, managing a portfolio of seven hotels and 13 restaurants including the five-star Rosselli AX Privilege luxury hotel in Valletta, the five-star AX The Palace in Sliema, and the Michelin-awarded Grain brand including Bib Gourmand Grain Street and One Star Under Grain, also in the capital.

“2023 is among the most difficult to predict, due to the ever-changing conditions of demand and supply,” Claire says. As testament to this, she points to the expected challenges in accessing the appropriate human resources in Malta, as well as supply chain and transport issues, coupled with evolving trends or habits – all of which are, and are expected to continue having, a ripple effect on the economy, she insists.

Her comments were featured as part of Business Now Winter 2022/2023 edition’s cover story, which seeks to tackle the impossible: predicting what will happen in 2023.

“Post COVID is transpiring to be unexpectedly among the most difficult periods of our business, as its dynamics changed completely, on all levels, starting with the scarcity of human resources,” she states, echoing the comments made by Mr Incorvaja. Indeed, she continues, the issues resulting from the lack of talent are compounded by the decline in the quality of human capital available – as a result of lacunae in education, and the failure to attract the ‘right’ candidates – and the rising cost of salaries, making the ability to find, keep and pay good staff increasingly problematic.

Moreover, “it is also very tough to predict business trends, making it more complex for us to determine not only sales levels, due to the fluctuations on the market, but also to determine price expectations, due to the ever-increasing cost of living.” In addition, in terms of the team at AX Group, “it’s very challenging to retain staff due to the fragility of the situation, and, therefore, the need to constantly mentor and be closer to them is even greater.”

In this regard, she continues, “we believe that 2023 will be worse than 2022 in terms of rising costs, so businesses need to not only revise their plans but re-think the way they operate. Possibly, one needs to revise their operations, and tweak them, in order to maintain a good and sustainable business, as well as to remain attractive to the market.”

Despite this, there is a silver lining, she says: “The change in people’s expectations is also challenging our hotel teams, pushing them to constantly innovate and to keep up with the ever-changing market needs and demands.” Indeed, AX Group has many projects in the pipeline, as 2023 gets underway. “Innovation needs to be stimulated even more than before. It is vital that new projects within our business are encouraged, as this will reassure our relevance to the market. But, we need to work harder towards the viability of each of those businesses and be bold enough to remove what doesn’t make sense anymore, if they cannot be tweaked to today’s needs,” she says. “We need to be agile and brave enough to change our ways.”

To effect this philosophy, and in order to maintain a buoyant business, Ms Zammit Xuereb meets “with top executives on a more frequent basis, and together with their teams, we revise matters in each business unit delving deeply into the operations, procedures and goals of that specific department,” she explains. This has an impact on “how we appeal to the market, how we recruit, how to procure resources, as well as how to stimulate and retain our business.”

With this in mind, Ms Zammit Xuereb’s plans for the company include keeping “very close tabs on what is happening around us and close grips on my team, to constantly adjust our sails to that wind.” Looking ahead, she advises companies working in various sectors to innovate and “develop new products to keep being relevant, as well as to attract a constant flow of business and potentially new segments of the market.” For, she insists, “if you look for opportunities, you will always find them. In an unstable economy, your opportunities are greater, but one needs to be committed to keep innovating, be resilient and look ahead, as we need to pivot around any changes which arise.”

Click here to read Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa General Manager Alex Incorvaja’s outlook for 2023 as part of the same Business Now magazine cover story

Click here to read what Farsons Group CEO Norman Aquilina, who was also featured, has to say about what’s in store, particularly for the manufacturing sector

Here, you’ll find insights from BRND WGN Founder and CEO Peter Grech

This feature was first carried in the Business Now Winter 2022/2023 edition. Business Now magazine is the sister brand to BusinessNow.mt, both produced by Content House Group

Featured Image:

Claire Zammit Xuereb / Photo by Alan Carville

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