English language schools had about 4,000 cancelled bookings from French and Italian students because of the coronavirus, the CEO of the schools’ association said. 

James Perry said that since Italy and France introduced educational travel bans, members of the Federation of English Language Teaching Organisations Malta (FELTOM) reported cancellations in the bookings they had received. 

Perry warned that the figure was, by now, already out of date. Italy had since ordered a complete travel ban in the country. The cancellations represent just a fraction of the around 45,000 English language students normally expected over the “shoulder months” and just over half of the 87,000 anticipated every year, Perry said. 

The months before Easter typically bring more French and Italian students to study English. According to National Statistics Office figures for the first three months of 2018, January saw 3,391 English language students, 4,525 in February and 8,325 in March. 

Educational travel bans were introduced by the Italian government on February 22 and the French government on March 2, stopping students both from going to school locally and from travelling abroad to attend English language classes.

While the Italian ban should be lifted on April 3, the French ban did not have a definite finish date, Perry said. 

“We’re in worrying times. These educational travel bans are having a big impact on our members but we have to be positive and keep attracting students to the schools,” he insisted. In the last week, the organisation presented its impact assessment to various authorities, appealing for their assistance and reassurance during this difficult period.

Feltom, the federation which groups language schools, said in a statement that   the estimated financial impact of 4,000 student cancellations will result in a devastating monthly financial loss of €1.4 million for member schools and a €3.4 million for the local economy.

It said the cancellation trend is persisting.  "6,000 student cancellations will equate to a debilitating monthly loss of €2.1 million for the schools and €5.2 million for the economy," it warned.

It said it had discussed the situation with the minister of tourism and will also be meeting with the minister of education.

"The English Language School operators have always contributed to the Maltese economy, generating employment and revenues permeating various fields of the Maltese economic fabric. Teachers, office and ancillary staff, group leaders, host families, transport providers, guides, restauranteurs and other service providers will undoubtedly all be adversely affected. We now need all the support required to help us weather the storm," the federation said.

Impact on the entertainment sector

The schools are not the only ones affected by the cancellations; the impact has also been felt by Malta’s local entertainment operators providing weekly welcome parties to students. One business owner said they had seen a drop of around 50 per cent in their sales in the last five weeks, the result of fewer foreign students coming from virus-affected countries cancelling their trips. 

The problem has affected all four of the owner’s clubs, which resulted in 20 parties having fewer than half of the attendance they would usually have. 
“Normally, we would be expecting around 80 people attending these weekly welcome parties held on a Monday. Instead, we’re seeing around 30 people attending. “This virus is affecting schools and it is costing us half of our sales during the week.” 

Philip Fenech, the Chamber of SMEs’ hospitality and leisure president, said COVID19 had an impact on companies providing entertainment to large student groups from France and Italy apart from tourist groups who had cancelled their holidays. 

“We’ve had reports from hotels and club venues about cancellations of large groups consisting of between 50 and 100 people. This is having a serious knock-on impact for clubs and restaurants that would benefit from this custom.”

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