16 boutique hotels earmarked for Valletta - Zammit Lewis

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis says boutique hotels would turn Valletta into “city break”; PN shadow minister Robert Arrigo says building a bridge or tunnel between Malta and Gozo would be detrimental to tourism industry.

At least 16 planning applications for boutique hotels in Valletta have been submitted, tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis said on Monday during TVM’s Reporter.

The announcement comes barely a month after MaltaToday revealed that a renovated luxury boutique hotel in Birgu, which received €85,000 in EU grants, has been put up for sale just 18 months after opening for business.

However, despite the boutique hotel’s short-lived tenure as one of Malta’s only luxury boutique hotel – which then Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi had said that it would transform Malta into a top-class destination for tourists in the shoulder months – tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis was unfazed, claiming that the development of boutique hotels in Valletta would turn it into a “city break.”

Hosted on Reporter by presenter Saviour Balzan,  Zammit Lewis said the measure would see tourists visit Malta specifically to visit Valletta, and help to diversify the types of tourists who visit.

Flanked by his PN counterpart Robert Arrigo and MTA consultant George Micallef, the tourism minister underlined that the government’s goals are to improve the quality of tourists and to target new economic niches. These include tourists from non-EU countries and sports tourism, as well as LGBT tourism.

Defending MEPA’s height adjustment policy, Zammit Lewis argued that hotels have been using this policy to “improve their product and target new niches by improving their service.”

Hosted by presenter Saviour Balzan on TVM’s Reporter, Zammit Lewis explained that at least 16 boutique hotels are earmarked for Valletta – a measure which would see Valletta promoted as a city break where tourists would come to Malta to visit the capital city only.

Asked about the resignation of former MTA Chief Executive Josef Formosa Gauci, Zammit Lewis distanced himself from reports that there was a rift between Formosa Gauci and MTA Chairman Gavin Gulia, instead claiming that Formosa Gauci’s resignation was due to personal issues.

Formosa Gauci, the former CEO at the Malta Tourism Authority, tendered his resignation on 29 July, almost six years into his post. The news of Formosa Gauci’s surprise resignation raised eyebrows among the PN stable.

In a dig at the previous Nationalist administration, Zammit Lewis argued that it is “unacceptable” that there had been cases where Air Malta and the Malta Tourism Authority worked at loggerheads, rather than in tandem.

On his part, shadow minister for tourism Robert Arrigo insisted that the inclusion of industry stakeholders in the Malta Tourism Authority board is a step in direction. This was also echoed by Zammit Lewis, who explained that the Air Malta board should follow suit and include stakeholders in the airline industry.

“Over the years, there have been many hotels in Gozo that have closed. If we want Gozo to be economically stronger, and to create more work, we must improve its accessibility,” he said.

Arrigo also argued that a bridge or a tunnel in Gozo would only serve to improve the Maltese and Gozitan economies, and that the tourism industry would get the short end of the stick.

“If the government were to build a bridge it would improve Gozo’s accessibility, but it would be detrimental to the tourism industry, as currently the Gozo Channel is a spectacle in itself,” Arrigo said.

Moreover, he called on the government to ensure that tourists increase during shoulder months, and that there would be no months of saturation. Arrigo was however against the capping of tourists in summer, and recommended a slight increase in price during the summer months so as to increase revenue and the quality of tourists.

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