"Excellent" results in the tourism sector were unveiled yesterday but the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, Josef Formosa Gauci, warned that complacency was no option.

According to a survey carried out by Deloitte, tourist arrivals in the last quarter of the year increased by 16.8 per cent, with the highest increase registered in October.

"This is a very dynamic industry which changes regularly and we have to ensure we are well-prepared to meet all the challenges that arise," Mr Formosa Gauci said.

The number of guest nights was 11.7 per cent higher than in the same quarter of the previous year although the available room stock dropped by 7.6 per cent. Higher occupancy levels were registered by three-, four- and five-star hotels, despite a dip in December.

Tourist expenditure also went up by €13.74 (Lm5.9) million although the average spend per person per night went down by €3.82 (Lm1.64). However, for the whole year, the average spend per person per night rose by almost €2.50 (Lm1.04).

Despite this improvement, the report said there was a decrease in the total revenue per occupied room reported by four- and five-star hotels in the last quarter.

Overall, 2007 also saw a 10.6 per cent increase in tourist arrivals although there was a drop in the average length of stay.

The positive trend continued in January when tourist arrivals grew by over 23 per cent compared to the same month in 2006.

Mr Formosa Gauci said the projections for this year are positive, with February, May and June looking good and March and April picking up through last-minute bookings. "We must continue to ensure that this trend continues."

Speaking at the launch of the report, Mr Formosa Gauci said the positive performance was "undoubtedly" a result of changes made by the government in the middle of 2006, mainly in the wake of intense pressure by the association. He mentioned the arrival of low-cost airlines and improved marketing by the Malta Tourism Authority as contributing factors.

A lot of work was done last year on marketing and accessibility - two of the three fundamentals for tourism. "We need to continue building on what we have achieved so far," he said, adding that work needs to be done on the other fundamental - product. "We have to ensure that the product is of a high standard that meets our visitors' expectations."

He highlighted the importance of tackling enforcement and introducing long overdue measures to regulate the student market, which could have adverse effects unless implemented very quickly.

The newly-appointed Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, Mario de Marco underlined the importance of ensuring that Malta has a good product because this was vital to ensure sustained tourism. Speaking off the cuff, Dr de Marco said now that Malta has been made more accessible, it was all the more important to maintain a good reputation.

He stressed the importance of going beyond promoting the usual spots, pointing out that Malta is full of history and culture and tourists should be given a unique sensation. "We also have to exploit the fact that we have a lot to offer within an accessible distance," he said. Tourists also had to get value for money.

Dr de Marco said he looks forward to learning from his predecessors, mentioning former Tourism Ministers Karmenu Vella and Francis Zammit Dimech.

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