Tourism industry urgently needs to know date airport will reopen - Robert Arrigo

PN MP Robert Arrigo urges government to announce date when Malta will reopen its airport

PN MPs Robert Arrigo, Beppe Fenech Adami and Karol Aquilina addressed a press conference on Thursday
PN MPs Robert Arrigo, Beppe Fenech Adami and Karol Aquilina addressed a press conference on Thursday

The government should urgently announce when it plans to open Malta's airport, Robert Arrigo said.

If the tourism sector is to successfully plan ahead, it must know in advance when airports will reopen, the PN MP stressed.

Arrigo warned on Thursday that Italy, Spain, Portugal and Greece - four major European markets - had already announced that they would be reopen their airports on 1 June.

"Airlines therefore know that these four giants are already prepared... but Malta is not," he said.

"The hotel industry doesn't plan its operations from day to day," Arrigo said, "Hotels and other types of accommodation incur thousands of euro in expenses to reopen, and they need around 15 to 20 days to prepare. They can't just reopen within a handful of days," he said.

The PN tourism spokesperson's comments come as the government has been lifting a number of COVID-19 restrictions, including by allowing restaurants to open their doors last week. The government, however, has to date not made an official announcement as to when Malta's airport will reopen to commercial flights.

Arrigo lamented that the nine "safe corridor" countries - Luxembourg, Norway, Serbia, Slovakia, Austria, Czech Republic, Latvia, Lithuania and Israel - Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli had indicated Malta could initially restart flights between in effect didn't exceed 8% of arrivals to the island in 2019, Malta's record tourism year.

"This is too little. From some of them almost no tourists come. For instance, Latvia actually listed Malta in its red zone last week, advising people not to travel there. And in the meantime we are considering it as a destination to reopen to," he said, highlighting that the government was sending contradicory messages to the tourism industry.

Government gave €4.5 million to VistaJet for little in return

Addressing the conference, PN MP Beppe Fenech Adami said the government had given €4.5 million to the international aviation company VistaJet over the period of three years, starting in 2016, ostensibly as payments for promoting Malta.

VistaJet, however, had offered little by way of promotion for the island, he said.

Fenech Adami said that, an analysis of the VistaJet contract within Parliament's Public Accounts Committee had shown that, in the first year of the agreement, Malta had paid €1.5 million in return for marketing services for the Malta Tourism Authority.

VistaJet, however, had limited its promotions to a single article about Malta in its in-flight magazine for internal flights.

For the remaining two years of contract, the aviation firm could provide by way of evidence in terms of promotions which it did for Malta, Fenech Adami said.

"When we pressed it to get to know for what we paid the money, we found that, for instance, €50,000 was paid by the government for a 30 minute press confernce for VistaJet to hold a press conference in Malta, merely to say it had started a flight operation to the island," Fenech Adami.

He went on to list other examples of when large payments were paid to the company for seemingly minor promotional activities.

Public funds should be used to people's benefit

Nationalist MP Karol Aquilina said that public funds couldn't be used be the government to serve its own partisan interest, but should go towards those in society who needed them.

"What was revealed to the PAC about VistaJet is unacceptable," Aquilina said.

"It's unacceptable that the MTA either refuses or does not know how to answer about the use of public funds. In this particular case, we are talking about €4.5 million. Only God knows what good these funds could have done for the industry in the current circumstances," he said.