All hands on deck | Julia Farrugia

Usually it takes two to tango. But to face the raging beast attacking us on all fronts, we must ‘tango in three’ to slay it: the government, the employers and the employees

This is time to be honest with each other. The time to face our genuine fears together.

They say one day is a long time in politics. In these trying times, just days after the Prime Minister entrusted me with the tourism portfolio, I would say an hour is significantly long enough.

The world has entered unchartered waters. Tourism is no different and there is a wide consensus, nay nearly unanimous agreement, that the worst collateral damage of the coronavirus outbreak has been and is being suffered by the tourism industry. Locally this industry is being hit more aggressively than elsewhere because it is one of the main pillars of our economy.

It is tragic that for seven long years our government has invested so much for the promotion of tourism and reserved hundreds of millions of euros to transform it from a seasonally summer-based industry, to one which operates all year round, to see it laid low in a few weeks.

This government has not only opened its coffers to help hoteliers and other entrepreneurs, and stakeholders in this industry through business-friendly measures, but has also spent more millions to upgrade beaches, infrastructure, and other facilities to improve our tourism product and make Malta attractive. Can we forget the millions MTA forked out in yearly publicity campaigns in the main tourist catchment areas? Do we not remember that all sorts of festivals, concerts and shows were organised at great cost so that the tourism industry could carry on moving at a steady pace, not just during the spring and summer months, but throughout the whole year?

Results speak for themselves, but we tend to somewhat easily forget. The industry was expanding at such a fast rate that an experienced hotelier like Mr Tony Zahra was warning us that it was better to divert our attention and our efforts into quality, and not quantity. Others were so optimistic that they invested, or were planning to invest, in the upgrading of their product. And the government was always supportive and backed their dreams.

You do not have to be an economist or a financial wizard to conclude that during the last seven years all the hoteliers and stakeholders in the industry have done well, even beyond their wildest dreams. And suddenly, as the dark clouds of the coronavirus began to darken our blue sky, the fall-out hit us hard, the enthusiasm waned, the profits forgotten, and as a deadly meteorite hit, things started to change. As tourism minister, I have in the past weeks led several meetings with numerous representatives of the industry and I continue to assess the situation practically in real-time, while listening to your concerns and following up on suggestions made. We want to protect jobs and at the same time re-stimulate our economy when we get through this.

As government, we are doing our part with a massive aid of €1.81 billion. In order to realise this aid package we have to produce some relevant statistics and corresponding comparative figures. Lately President Trump announced a package of USD1 trillion; this amounts to 4.7% of a $21.439 trillion GDP. Angela Merkel is offering an aid package of just 1.8% out of a €3.863 trillion GDP; Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte of Italy reserved a bailout of €25 billion out of a GDP amounting to €2 trillion, that is 1.25%. Our Prime Minister Robert Abela is offering a huge sum of €1.81 billion which amounts to 15% of our GDP of €12 billion.

And what’s more important and significant is that we are not ruling out further aid if necessary.

However, all those involved, that is, all the social partners, have to realise that such a devastating blow has to be confronted by a united nation in order to be overcome. Common sense, and taking the long view, are essential. And it is imperative that we can never concentrate on our little piece of turf and fail to realise that even God helps those who help themselves.

Usually it takes two to tango. But to face the raging beast attacking us on all fronts, we must ‘tango in three’ to slay it: the government, the employers and the employees. We have no choice really, we’re all in the same boat. Let’s use these lean times productively, and proactively think of improvements and gear up our upcoming strategies and campaigns.

I firmly believe that we shall win and pass through this together, bruised but not defeated, and see Malta’s resilient tourism industry return to record-breaking performances. Let’s keep supporting each other with constructive discussions and think in the best interest of all and not individually.

As we face this terrible ordeal together, united as one, we do well to remember a few lines from the The Lay Of The Battle Of Maldon, an Old English poem: ‘Thought shall be the harder, heart the keener, Courage the greater, as our might lessens.’

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