Corinthia Group Chairman Alfred Pisani said today that the future of Malta's tourism industry hinged on its ability to raise its image as a highly sophisticated destination which would attract high quality visitors. 

"We should not try and compete with nearby destinations like Tunis, as this would automatically limit rates within a certain bracket," he said. 

"That is why Corinthia group is planning to invest in a six-star hotel in St George's Bay as this would raise the benchmarks of Malta's tourism industry."

The Corinthia chairman was speaking at a business breakfast organised by The Business Observer (distributed with Times of Malta) at InterContinental Malta. The discussion focused on the future of the tourism industry and whether it had reached saturation level with 1.7 million tourists annually. 

Asked on the reasons which had led the Corinthia Group to pull out of the Jerma Hotel in Marsascala which has closed down years ago and is now in a derelict state, Mr Pisani said it was no longer competitive with tour operators.

He noted that back then Jerma Hotel was completely dependent on tour operators who kept lowering their prices until it was no longer sustainable.

However, he noted that in the current scenario of internet bookings it could be once again financially viable.

On his part Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said that Malta's capacity was far from saturated as there was room for more arrivals with the exception of August. He also noted that tourism was still concentrated in certain areas to the point that only 1.5 per cent of hotel beds are in the south whereas tourism in Gozo was highly seasonal.

Touching on the issue of quality tourism, he said there were positive indicators as tourist  spending per capita was on the rise.

On the other hand he expressed concern on three star hotels saying operators should make greater efforts to reinvent themselves and improve their level of service.

During the debate a number of points were raised from the floor.

Paceville club owner Philip Fenech who heads the entertainment section within the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises (GRTU), expressed concern on what he described as "soliciting" taking place outside certain clubs in Paceville in a bid to attract visitors.

He said such practice was actually putting off tourists.

He also called for more efforts from language schools to attract "corporate students" in the wake of complaints of disruptive behaviour from some students attending these schools.

On his part the Tourism Minister called for Paceville club owners to join forces with the government to tackle issues related to public order, cleansing and the general upkeep of this entertainment hub.

He said that the opening of a number of boutique hotels in Paceville, was one good reason why those directly interested should be proactive and do the first step.

Malta Tourism Authority CEO Paul Bugeja pointed out that Malta's maximum annual capacity if all hotels had to be fully booked all year round would be 2.8 million tourists.

Yet the annual average rate of accommodation when taking into account the winter months was 59 per cent. Consequently he said that there was still room for improvement.

As for the issue of construction works in touristic areas in the summer months, former MTA chief Josef Formosa Gauci who was on the panel clarified that the only demolition and excavation works were banned.