Labour calls for better ‘link’ between Air Malta and MTA

Parliamentary Secretary for tourism Mario de Marco says Labour ignores record tourism statistics.

Labour MPs Chris Cardona and Gavin Gulia call for more work in the tourism and industry sectors.
Labour MPs Chris Cardona and Gavin Gulia call for more work in the tourism and industry sectors.

Labour MPs Gavin Gulia and Chris Cardona criticised Budget 2012 today in a press conference on industry and tourism, saying government was not providing a holistic approach to address the problems faced by both sectors.

Gulia called for better coordination between Air Malta and the Malta Tourism Association, where MTA would also help attract tourists who preferred flying with legacy airlines such as Air Malta. "Usually these tourists spend more money in Malta than those who fly with Air Malta," Gulia said.

He also condemned the speech made by Finance Minister Tonio Fenech during the Budget, when he announced that government will be committing €20 million to the restructuring of Air Malta. "The Minister was hostile towards Air Malta's workers and the trade unions, threatening them with outsourcing certain operations or firing workers," Gulia said.

Fenech had insisted that "everyone" must understand that discussions cannot be extended indefinitely and it was important that everyone accepted the final packet offered by the company management.

"Refusing them can only lead to the outsourcing of certain operations or to the reduction of employees according to our country's laws," Fenech had said. 

Gulia added that he could not understand how government expected the Opposition to come out with solutions when it was not being kept informed with what was going on with the airline's restructuring process.

He also questioned how government was insisting that Air Malta repays back the €52 million government had lent it last year, while at the same time recognising the airline needed the €20 million next year. "This, not to mention the additional €6 million Air Malta has to pay in interests. One still has to see why government recalled the loan for next year. Is next year the ideal time for the airline to call back the loan? Or government wanted to include it in its revenue to show that government's debt is decreasing?" Gulia said.

While acknowledging that the number of tourists visiting Malta increased, Gulia said the number of nights spent had decreased, due to the increase in so-called dynamic tourists brought about by low-costs airlines. "A level playing field between legacy airlines and low-cost airlines should be found. Air Malta brings a different tourist to the low-cost and should continue doing so."

He added that the restructuring of Air Malta should also look into how to keep attracting the quality tourist: "The country's challenge is to increase the bed nights of visiting tourists, while boosting those routes which are underserved."

Speaking on the industry, Chris Cardona said government failed to address red tape which hinders investment and "creates uncertainty" to those who want to invest.

Cardona said that utility bills have a huge impact on a company's competitiveness and it was worrying that leading companies in Malta are finding the bills as a burden.

"Millions are spent in utility bills when these could be used for research and development and investing in the worker," Cardona said.

In a reaction to the press conference, Parliamentary secretary for culture and tourism Mario de Marco said that Gulia's criticisms of tourism results for 2011 were unfounded.

"Although statistics for the year have not yet been released, 2011 was the best year ever in tourism figures. Just by looking at the first nine months of this year, numbers already surpassed those recorded in 2010," de Marco said.

The parliamentary secretary also pointed out that it was not just the number of tourists which increased, but also the total nights spent.

"Figures show that 70,000 more tourists were recorded in Malta over the 1,330,000 tourists recorded in 2010.The first nine months also shows an increase of 336,000 total bed nights over last year's nine million nights spent in 2010. The average length of stay has reduced internationally with tourist patterns changing everywhere. However, Malta actually saw an increase in both the total number of tourists and bed nights," de Marco said.

De Marco said that Gulia must not have had the opportunity to see the NSO reports for September 2011 representing an increase in tourist spending in Malta amounting to €1 billion.

"Even cruise liners are showing a constant number of tourists arriving to Malta with 500,000 tourists recorded for both 2010 and 2011. Even though we do not have statistics for October 2011, the Malta International Airport reported an absolute record number of tourists in Malta just for October," de Marco said.

De Marco also added that considering the crisis in Libya and North Africa this year, Malta had a challenge and succeeded.

"When people belittle the progress being seen in Malta's tourism figures, it is disrespectful to all workers in the tourist industry and an insult to hotel owners, investors, schools and others involved in the tourist industry," de Marco said.

A lot of investment was also made into marketing Malta as a safe place due to fears implemented in British news reports claiming Malta was a risk due to its close proximity to Libya, de Marco said.

Speaking on Air Malta, de Marco said that just because he had an interest in seeing the airline succeed, did not mean that he should run the company. "Air Malta was faced with many challenges this year. Although having 11 airplanes operating instead of 12, Air Malta still managed to transport the same amount of passengers as they did in 2010," de Marco said.

The primary interest in Air Malta was from a tourism perspective since it affects all ministries and sectors in Malta.

"Air Malta has to operate on viable but commercial level. Just because I am interested in most tourism sectors does not mean that I want to run or take over these areas," de Marco claimed.