Malta hotels hard hit by booking drought as coronavirus fears grow

Some hotels report a 50% decline in booking rates as business and travel groups continue to cancel their travel plans because of the coronavirus outbreak

Business groups organising conferences and exhibitions in Malta hotels have been cancelling their events scheduled for the next two months
Business groups organising conferences and exhibitions in Malta hotels have been cancelling their events scheduled for the next two months

Maltese hotels have been seeing a lack of bookings as the novel coronavirus keeps thwarting tourists’ travel plans to the island.

Hoteliers speaking to MaltaToday have reported “heavy damage” to business as travel and business groups have submitted cancellations to their itineraries.

“Our main concern is that the booking rate for this time of year has dropped by 50%,” Tony Zahra said.

Zahra, Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association President and Chairman of Alpine Holdings, told MaltaToday that business group cancellations have been vast.

“Groups have been cancelling conferences and meetings for the next two months. When it comes to leisure travelling, the cancellations are not that significant so far,” he said.

He added that hoteliers were hoping that a solution to the virus would be reached in the coming months and that the summer heat would contribute to the virus dissipating.

Other hoteliers reported individual cancellations as well and were concerned that the epidemic could harm the peak season business.  

“All groups have been cancelling their conferences and business trips scheduled for March and April. With leisure travel, we’ve had some last-minute cancellations and several no-shows,” Joe Vella said.

Vella, General Manager as the Seashells Resort at Suncrest, claimed that individual bookings weren’t as hard hit with cancellations but claimed that bookings for March and April have “come to a halt.”

He added that the hotel has seen some bookings for the summer period but he described the amount as “small.”

Speaking to BusinessToday, economist Philip Von Brockdorff said that the coronavirus’s first local casualty could very well be the tourism industry.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus hits markets but is it a blip or the start of a global recession?

“If this continues in this way it will start creating problems as listed companies losing value move to cut costs. The situation is still not a crisis but if the coronavirus spread continues it will have a growing impact on the global economy and Malta will not be spared,” he said.

Sister island Gozo has likewise been affected by a string of cancellations according to Gozo Tourism Association CEO, Joe Muscat.

Even hotel bookings for as late as August and September have been cancelled, he claimed.

“The majority of booking cancellations have come from Italy. We are seeing immediate cancellations and cancellations for trips late in the year. It is a disturbing situation,” he said.

Muscat said that ITB Berlin 2020, the world’s leading travel trade exhibition has been cancelled, a preoccupying development considering that such events usually engage thousands of individuals in the industry.

Event organisers Studioseven reported similar disturbances and concerns.

Sue Pisani, the company’s executive director, said that exhibitions and events scheduled for the next two months have been cancelled.

“An international beauty brand has cancelled all its events that we would have organised for the next three months. We have been seeing carte-blanche cancellations for product marketing events, exhibitions and the like.

“Our market is mostly international and we are currently suffering a lot. Even locals are not risking organising events,” Pisani said, adding that the company’s calendar was now made up of some very small local events.

READ ALSO | Coronavirus: 100 swabs have all resulted negative, health authorities confirm

The silver lining comes in the form of cruise liners and cruise packages as travel agencies report that the coronavirus had very little effect here.

This despite the horror story of the British-owned Diamond Princess cruise ship, carrying a full board of guests and crew off the coast of Japan that needed to be quarantined as it reported 706 cases of Covid-19.

Managing Director of Hamilton Travel, Norman Hamilton, told MaltaToday that the MSC Grandiosa continues to bring 6,700 passengers to Malta every week and that there were no disruptions as a result of the epidemic.

“We are telling travellers that we would not be porting in high-risk areas. We go to Marseille, Genoa, Barcelona, Messina and Napoli, none of which have been hit by the virus,” Hamilton said.

He added that the government was not preventing cruise liners from disembarking passengers in Malta but that precautionary thermal screening was taking place at the terminals.

“There are no cancelled events related to this itinerary so nobody has asked for a full refund so far. Fears of the virus do not constitute a cause for cancellations so far,” Hamilton said.

The cruises of MSC Grandiosa will continue up until March.

SMS Travel’s Costa Pacifica, which follows the same itinerary, will organise similar cruises from April to November and has not reported any significant amount of cancellations so far either.

On Wednesday, the Nationalist Party has called for the suspension of the 7% VAT on accommodation in Malta and Gozo due to the effects of the coronavirus on the industry.

Robert Arrigo, the PN’s tourism spokesperson, said that the tourism sector is suffering from “uncertainty” due to the fears surrounding the Covid-19 virus.

READ ALSO: PN calls for VAT suspension on hotels to mitigate coronavirus impact