The diving industry, which accounts for up to 8% of tourism to the islands, is staring into an abyss, as the coronavirus crisis gets progressively worse.
About 120,000 people visit the island every year for diving and Malta has 56 licensed schools. About a quarter of them have already laid off half or all of their winter workforce in a bid to cut costs and keep their business afloat.
The chairman of the Professional Diving Schools Association, Simon Sciberras, said the schools were hoping the crisis would soon be over so that the 2020 season could be salvaged. April and May’s diving trips have already been cancelled and June’s are dropping one by one.
As tourism has been so strong, with the shoulder months also doing well, many schools have retained a core workforce. This amounts to about half the employees held in the high season.
The COVID-19 pandemic, said Mr Sciberras, had hit the industry at the worst possible time. In November, schools usually start investing for the next season by servicing all equipment, which accounts for a big chunk of their expenses.
They also need to pay for insurance and licence renewals as well as attend international dive shows to attract visitors. Only 10% of business is from locals.
“We had made all our investments and marketing and were now meant to reap the benefits. But instead, we sit here counting our losses and hoping it passes soon rather than later,” Sciberras said when contacted on Thursday.
“Business is at a standstill. My concern is that we are not only going to lose the next two to three months but the entire season,” he said.
“The aid measures announced by the government are welcome but there are question marks on whether they apply to us too because our industry was not mentioned,” he added.
He said he was hoping that flights would resume by July. “I have serious concerns that many of us will run out of business and will shut for good. But I’m trying to remain positive and keeping my fingers crossed.”
Sciberras suggested specific measures to help the industry such as including diving in the summertime Skolasajf programme for children or having companies give diving vouchers to their employees.
“I’m imagining that after so long locked inside, people are going to want to do more outdoor activities once this passes but it all depends on people’s cashflow,” he said.
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