Malta could attract up to 2.8 million tourists annually if August arrivals were replicated in the remaining months, according to Malta Tourism Authority CEO Paul Bugeja.

He said that despite about 240,000 tourists arriving in August alone, the overall hotel occupancy rate was still 59 per cent because of the weak winter months.

He was speaking during a business breakfast yesterday organised by The Business Observer, a Times of Malta and Content House publication, at the InterContinental Malta in Paceville, which focused on tourism.

Last March, tourism expert George Cassar cautioned that Malta had reached saturation point, adding it would not be able to handle more than the 1.7 million tourists that visited in 2014.

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis, who was part of a discussion panel, expressed disagreement, saying there was still room for improvement.

Three-star hotels should make greater efforts to reinvent themselves

But he declined to give any figures when asked for Malta’s present peak capacity.

He said that, apart from increasing arrivals between October and March, the south of the island lacked adequate infrastructure because it accounted for just 1.5 per cent of the total bed supply.

There was also room for improvement in Gozo, since tourism was still highly seasonal on the sister island.

Touching on the issue of quality, he said there were positive indicators, as tourist spending per capita was on the rise. Dr Zammit Lewis expressed concern about three-star hotels, saying operators should make greater efforts to reinvent themselves and improve their level of service.

When the debate was opened to the floor, Philip Fenech, who heads the entertainment and hospitality sector within the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises – GRTU – said he was worried with what he described as “soliciting” taking place outside certain clubs in Paceville. Mr Fenech, who is also the owner of a club in the area, cautioned that such practice was putting off tourists.

Addressing the Paceville commercial community, Dr Zammit Lewis called on operators to join forces with the government and tackle issues related to public order, cleansing and the general upkeep of the area.

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

Don’t compete with Tunisia – hotel chief

The future of Malta’s tourism industry hinges on its ability to market itself as a highly sophisticated destination, Corinthia Group chairman Alfred Pisani said yesterday.

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

Speaking about his group’s massive investment in St George’s Bay, where it wants to build a six-star hotel, Mr Pisani said the search for quality spurned Corinthia’s plans. “This would raise the benchmark of Malta’s tourism industry.”

Asked for the reasons that led the group to pull out of the Jerma Hotel in Marsascala – it closed down in 2007 – Mr Pisani said it was no longer competitive with tour operators.

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

However, he noted that the emergence of online bookings had created a completely new landscape in the tourism industry, to the point that a hotel in the south today had better prospects for financial viability.

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