Tourism authority staff repeatedly stayed in expensive Valletta hotels at taxpayers’ expense during entertainment events organised earlier this year.

The Malta Tourism Authority confirmed that members of its staff had stayed at two hotels in the city during two separate events organised last summer. 

The events were a performance by the BBC Concert Orchestra in September and another by renowned DJ Pete Tong the following week.  

MTA staff booked two rooms at the Gomerino Hotel, a boutique establishment on Valletta’s St Paul Street, and another two rooms at 66, St Paul’s, a hotel and spa in a recently renovated 17th-century palazzo. 

The MTA did not say how many nights the rooms had been booked for, nor did it provide a full breakdown of the cost, but a spokesperson for the authority confirmed that the accommodation cost €165 a night per room. 

“Sources at the authority said the total cost was believed to hover around €3,000”

When asked why these rooms were required, the spokesperson said it was to host staff offering “logistical support”, details of which were unexplained.

Earlier this month, Times of Malta reported how the MTA’s events team had made arrangements to stay at the prestigious Phoenicia Hotel for the two-week duration of the Christmas attraction, Fairyland, which the entity has organised outside City Gate, Valletta.

It is understood that the MTA staff were told to change plans by the Tourism Ministry after receiving press questions.  More than a week after the story broke, the authority has confirmed that the authority booked a room at the Phoenicia for €140 a night, although it did not say how many nights the room was booked for. 

Sources at the authority said the total cost was believed to hover around €3,000. 

It is understood that the accommodation was given the green light by the MTA’s head of events, Lionel Gerada, who made use of the room himself. A canvasser of former tourism minister Konrad Mizzi, Gerada was recruited as head of events in 2018 when Mizzi was politically responsible for the entity.

He has faced allegations of awarding the lion’s share of public MTA contracts to a close network of individuals. 

Questions sent about whether action would be taken against Gerada have so far remained unanswered by the MTA. 

While senior government sources said Prime Minister Robert Abela had directed the MTA to sack Gerada, it appears that the authority’s chief executive Johann Buttigieg has so far failed to do so.  

Instead, sources said Buttigieg tried to have Gerada moved out of the events position and instead take on a lesser role as head of quality assurance.  

When this fell through, Gerada went out on leave, sources said. 

Questions have also been raised about the number of rooms booked for performers in events organised by the MTA. 

The authority spokesperson said that contractual agreements signed for these events stipulate that a number of rooms have to be booked for the international staff and performers in hotels close to the event. 

Various hotels in the capital, he said, were used after a call for quotations. 

 Foreign performers and staff stayed in 170 rooms at Grand Hotel Excelsior at a varying cost of between €160 and €180 every night for the BBC orchestra and Pete Tong events. 

A further 10 rooms at the Phoenicia Hotel were also taken up at a cost of €290 a night, the spokesperson said. 

The more recent Cirque Du Soleil was a comparative bargain for the taxpayer.

The MTA said foreign performers and staff took up 58 rooms at ST Hotels and Apartments in Gżira for as little as €38 a night. 

None of the MTA’s staff were required to offer ‘logistical support’ from this accommodation, the MTA confirmed.

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