The promising influx of visitors continues to fuel optimism for our tourism sector but our focus must shift to intensifying efforts in product development, particularly the improvement of urban environments. Balancing this demand with elevated quality in both infrastructure and experiences remains a key factor if we want to ensure more success for our sector, says Malcolm Azzopardi, general manager of Urban Hotels Malta.

Urban Hotel in St Julian’s recently registered a first for Malta when world-leading hospitality group ACCOR introduced its Handwritten Collection brand in Malta and chose Number 11, as the first Maltese hotel to be part of this newly launched brand.

“Becoming part of such a prestigious global hospitality group is a significant milestone for us and reaffirms our group’s commitment to exceptional experiences and excellence,” says Malcolm Azzopardi, general manager of Urban Hotels Malta.

Azzopardi’s professional journey kicked off in 1994 when he earned his Hotel Administration Diploma from the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) in Malta, gaining experience both locally and across various European countries before joining Urban Hotels in 2009 and its first development The George Urban Boutique Hotel.

“With three independent hotels in operation, the decision to join forces with Accor’s Handwritten Collection emerged as a strategic move for us that would allow us to broaden our distribution network, which means opening doors to over 85 million loyalty programme members,” says Azzopardi.

“So, after analysing our product portfolio, it became evident that Number 11 perfectly aligned with the essence of the Handwritten Collection and I believe this is what led us to this milestone inclusion.”

Number 11’s agreement with the Accor Group will come into effect from this coming January and obviously, this entailed further investment into the brand especially in terms of infrastructure and people, to align them to the Handwritten Collection’s expectations of standards.

“Number 11 was launched in December 2019, so our product is in an excellent condition – which was what impressed Accor’s development team and made the integration process even more seamless. Naturally, to adapt to Accor’s distribution and procedures we needed to strengthen our team and we are currently doing so by enhancing our workforce to ensure a smooth implementation of the required processes and training to be aligned with Accor’s standards,” he adds.

This partnership with Accor also encouraged us to make further investments in our product

“This partnership with Accor also encouraged us to make further investments in our product, notably enhancing offerings like our year-round heated outdoor pool and extending operating hours at our restaurant - Hammett’s Mestizo. Our overall aim is to boost direct bookings through the Accor network, aiming for a holistic improvement in our overall product and service experience.”

Malcolm agrees that hospitality depends a lot on the quality and the experience delivered. So, what is it that sets Urban Hotels aside from competition in his opinion?

“In the realm of hospitality, quality and experience are paramount. We keep it simple by focusing our dedication on meeting our patrons’ requirements and expectations. Not only are our hotels in high-demand locations with superior facilities but we extend our commitment to fast responses to requests and complaints, ensuring a positive experiences and maintaining high-level quality in their accommodation facilities.”

“These we believe, are the customer-centric essentials that carve out a unique space for us – creating a distinctive blend of excellence and attentiveness in the competitive landscape,” he adds.

Azzopardi looks at the post-pandemic period as a period that saw a robust resurgence in tourism which however posed its fair share of challenges in infrastructure and product development.

“The promising influx of visitors, thanks to excellent airline connections, continues to fuel optimism for sustained high numbers. However, our focus must shift to intensifying efforts in product development, particularly the improvement of urban environments.”

“Balancing this demand surge with elevated quality in both infrastructure and experiences remains, in my opinion, a key factor for ensuring the continued success of the tourism sector.”

Asked about the current issue surrounding Malta’s new airline, especially with regards to the limited routes, Azzopardi considers Air Malta’s decision to limit routes as a pragmatic one that reflects the circumstances.

“What needs to be emphasised now is the crucial role of sustainability for the airline’s survival. This, coupled with effective management, can lead to the airline’s potential growth in the coming years.”

As a hotelier, Azzopardi also draws parallels with Malta as a destination and admits that our country’s unique charm lies in its diverse offerings.

“Proximity is a big factor. Within 15 to 30 minutes, one can explore the UNESCO World Heritage site of Valletta, dive in Gozo, bike near Dingli Cliffs, or enjoy the vibrant nightlife in St. Julians. This diversity forms the crux of our product differentiation, showcasing the multitude of experiences possible within a short span.”

We should try and strengthen our efforts in promoting Malta throughout Europe more as a destination for short three- to four-day breaks, This would certainly help us capitalise further on this distinct advantage.”

2023 was a positive year for the Group where financial targets were met and the year was marked as a significant milestone with a full year of operation for all three hotels.

“Looking ahead, the anticipation is high for an even stronger performance in 2024. The coming year also marks the initiation of planning for the refurbishment program for The George Urban Boutique Hotel, which is where it all started,” concludes Azzopardi.

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