Experiences like going out to eat or going to the beach will have to change once the COVID-19 restrictions are eased locally, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli said.

Restaurants will need to maintain a safe distance between diners, and other nuanced details like the frequency with which tablecloths need to be changed are being discussed.

The age-old problem of beaches overrun by deckchairs is also set to change, she told Times of Malta.

“I cannot see a situation on beaches where people are literally touching hands because the deckchairs are packed so closely together.”  

The minister said risk assessments are being carried out for each outdoor activity and protocols are being put in place for a staggered re-opening for different sectors, including some in the tourism industry.

Wage supplement to be maintained

She assured that measures such as the wage supplement would be extended past June for those worst hit by the crisis.

A quarter of those receiving the supplement work in the tourism industry, with 90% of them hailing from the accommodation and food sectors.

“We have made it clear that support is not going to be withdrawn suddenly. It must remain in place while the recovery gains pace,” she said.

The minister said she feared that Malta’s tourism industry could take between 18 months and two years to get back on its feet.

The industry’s recovery is very much dependent on how well other countries dealt with the COVID-19 crisis, she said.

“We cannot say we will be back to normal by the end of the year. It all depends on how well other countries handle the situation. We cannot open a route to a country that has not tackled the problem. Any routes opened up must be safe.”  

She said Malta’s own handling of the crisis meant it was well-positioned to promote itself as a safe destination once air routes begin to re-open.

Instead of pausing all its marketing efforts, the Malta Tourism Authority had instead shifted towards virtual campaigns promoting Malta.

Rehabilitation works and re-training

Rehabilitation works at tourist sites have also continued and 100 workers from the cleansing department, which now falls under the Tourism Ministry’s remit, are working round the clock on disinfecting public areas. 

Farrugia Portelli added that she saw the crisis as a good opportunity to finally flesh out Malta’s long-discussed need to focus on quality tourism.

“I remember interviewing [MHRA president] Tony Zahra about this when I was a journalist. Stakeholders have long been discussing the need to shift towards quality tourism and offering a better product,” she said. 

The unprecedented downtime due to the crisis was also being used by hotels as an opportunity to refurbish and offer further training to their employees, Farrugia Portelli said.

On Friday, the minister announced a €5 million investment in a new e-learning platform that will offer high-level training courses to thousands of workers in the tourism sector.

“It would have been impossible to send a worker to such a course during peak season before the crisis,” she remarked.

The minister said niche sectors such as religious tourism and specialised activities were also being explored.

The Tourism Ministry teamed up with DAN Europe, a diving network, to offer a three-year Bachelor's course at the ITS campus in Gozo, the minister said.

Focus will also be placed on promoting shorter breaks, as studies show tourists tend to spend more money when on short holidays. 

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