Picture this: in March 2020, every hotel across Malta and Gozo closed its doors. Practically overnight, the pandemic shattered the hospitality industry. The tourism sector, the very cornerstone of Malta’s economy, all but vanished amid an airport closure and lockdown-like restrictions across the island.

At AX Hotels, we too felt the brick-wall effects of the pandemic. Even so, throughout this challenging time, we remained positive and believed that the international vaccination roll-out would enable us to return to business normality before long.

Today, and in hindsight, our persistence and optimism of months ago has fallen flat.

Of course, on the face of it we appear to be living the situation we had envisaged with such hope. Malta has a vaccination programme that is one of the best in Europe – if not the world – and the airport is welcoming tourists once again. Yet, ironically, despite visitors and clients finally returning in droves, we must now refuse bookings and close outlets.

Why? Because, like many across Malta’s hospitality sector, we do not have sufficient employees to properly service customers, especially to the standards of excellence we nurture at AX Hotels.

Following the colossal hit of the pandemic, foreign workers – who comprised 70 per cent of our workforce – made their way back to their home nations. Most have not returned. These were cleaners, waiters, housekeepers, chefs, representatives and other vital team members from every imaginable layer of our industry.

As we reopen amid Malta’s valiant vaccination efforts, our workforce is being made to weather yet another storm not of its making. The fewer than 30 per cent remaining – now dwindled to 15 per cent of the total workforce – are those locals who have not yet lost trust in the industry and who are now desperately trying to make up for the shortfall.

What is being offered to reverse and mitigate the exodus of foreign workers?- Claire Zammit Xuereb

Our entire AX Hotels team is literally exhausted. Morale is down. This is understandable, considering each colleague clocks longer shifts than ever and seemingly never-ending hours without hope that the situation will improve.

We train our team to give nothing short of exceptional service: the foundation of our brand promise. It has been a year of hardships; nevertheless, we have upheld our ethos despite having few customers and even fewer staff.

The situation is so bad here in Malta that local establishments are on the brink of turning away customers and refusing bookings for hotels and restaurants, which will have damaging effects, both in the short and long term.

We regret this situation because it didn’t have to be this way. Although so many aspects of the pandemic were unseen, the end was always in sight and a clear path should have been paved to guarantee success.

This is a bitter pill to swallow at the end of what has already been the most challenging period in the history of Malta’s hospitality sector.  So, we ask: what comes next for us? What incentives, initiatives or benefits are being offered to reverse and mitigate the exodus of foreign workers? What strategy is being implemented by the authorities to both support the valuable workers choosing the hospitality industry today and encourage the people we need to grow and sustain the sector tomorrow?

We need action now. As we further invest the time, money and energy needed to best serve Malta’s visitors in 2021 and help the island compete into the future, we know that good and plentiful human resources will unpin every challenge and success along the way.

To achieve that hard-earned success, we need a serious plan of action that will save jobs and the industry – today before tomorrow. Every hour spent without a national action plan is another hour of heavy losses for our business and, consequently, for Malta’s economy, both now and in the years to come.

There is no time to waste and I stand ready to provide the industry insight needed to take the action required. Only then can we hope to do what we do best: welcome and serve Malta’s guests. 

Until then, I encourage all those looking for immediate employment in hospitality to call us directly or visit www.axcareersmalta.com/find-a-job/

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