Hili Ventures in process of acquiring Comino Hotel

Plans for the hotel, the only one on the untouched island of Comino, would include altering the footprint but also carrying out an upgrade of the complex and making it a more attractive destination for holidaymakers

One of Malta’s most prolific of business groups, Hili Ventures, is in the process of concluding its purchase of the Comino Hotel.

A senior director of the group, headed by magnate Melo Hili, confirmed the deal, the amount of which has not yet been revealed.

Plans for the hotel, the only one on the untouched island of Comino, would include altering the footprint but also carrying out an upgrade of the complex and making it a more attractive destination for holidaymakers.

The local plan for Comino accords the island the status of Special Area of Conservation and nature reserve, and only allows developers to “upgrade” the existing tourist complex and hotel if it is “compatible with the sensitivity of the surrounding context”.

The Comino hotel is currently owned by Kemmuna Ltd, a company which includes Malta’s foremost business groups as shareholders: Alf Mizzi & Sons, Ropes Limited – which is owned by the Tumas and Gasan business groups – Consolidated Holdings, Festa Ltd, and Chrisanton PTY. The company’s directors are Ray Fenech, Joe Gasan, Brian Mizzi and Alec Mizzi.

Historically, the island had once been leased by the government for 150 years to Comino Development Co. Ltd, a company owned by John Gaul, at the annual rent of £100 in the early 1960s. Gaul built the hotel and summer bungalows. The Borg Olivier government negotiated a new deal to reduce Gaul’s ownership to the area presently occupied by the Comino Hotel, at San Niklaw Bay and the bungalows at Santa Marija Bay.

Prior to that, the island had been leased to the Zammit Cutajar group for the Comino Farming Company in 1926, which grew fruit and vegetables over 162 hectares of land.

In the late 1960s, the entrepreneur Cecil Pace acquired the Comino Hotel but when the banker was arrested over misappropriation of funds and had his BICAL bank licence suspended, the hotel was indiscriminately returned to John Gaul by controllers.

In 2007, entrepreneurs Joseph Gasan and George Fenech bought a share in Kemmuna Ltd, which runs the Comino Hotel, by acquiring a stake in Ropes Services Ltd in November 2007, a company registered in the Isle of Man.

The local plan

Observers know that the Gozo and Comino Local Plan – the environmental policy that guides the planning authority into how it considers development applications – allows Kemmuna Ltd to “upgrade” the existing tourist complex and hotel if it is “compatible with the sensitivity of the surrounding context.”

That means that the local plan does not expressively ban new development, even if the “main thrust of upgrading should be directed towards the rehabilitation of the existing product and the redevelopment of the current facilities.”

The local plan also earmarks San Niklaw and the Blue Lagoon bay areas as a possible site for a “destination port” – the euphemism used for a fully-blown yacht marina – alongside Marsalforn and Hondoq ir-Rummien in Gozo.

The marina would become a landing point for the provision of necessary services such as onshore toilet facilities or garbage disposal for yachts, and also prohibit the anchoring of individual boats around the island.

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