Hotelier blasts ‘waste’ of government funds on Isle of MTV, Joseph Calleja concerts

Tourism Minister criticises PN media for mocking Air Malta’s economy flight baguette, says that national airline must be commercialised  

Isle of MTV has become a regular fixture with the Maltese. Photo by Ray Attard
Isle of MTV has become a regular fixture with the Maltese. Photo by Ray Attard

The government should no longer subsidise events such as Isle of MTV and Joseph Calleja’s annual Granaries concert, hotelier Michael Zammit Tabona said.

“The government wastes around €700,000 on those two events per year, and they don’t attract tourists to Malta,” Zammit Tabone said on Monday night’s edition of Reporter that dealt with tourism. “I agree that the government should subsidise events like the Baroque Festival that attract tourists to the islands but these two events are simply parties for the Maltese.”

Shadow Tourism Minister Robert Arrigo said that not many youths come to Malta specifically for Isle of MTV and that the government could spend the money on better avenues.

However, Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis pointed out that the touristic value of Isle of MTV lies in how it markets Malta as a touristic destination for the young generation.

“Isle of MTV is broadcast around the world and helps change the perception amongst youths that Malta is solely a touristic destination for senior citizens,” Zammit Lewis said.

Pointing to this year’s Baroque Festival that is expected to attract 2000 tourists to Malta, hotelier Tony Zahra said that major events should be held in Malta on a weekly basis and that walking tours should be promoted, so as to attract more tourists in the winter months. He added that, to start attracting upmarket tourists, Malta must first develop a holistic strategy aimed at reaching Luxembourg’s quality of life.   

Zammit Lewis said that winter-tourism figures did indeed increase last year and that developing Malta’s tourism niches, such as through conference tourism and religious tourism, will attract more tourists in the barren months.

However, Zammit Tabona advised caution.

“Let’s not throw all our eggs into one basket and risk the mass tourism that we already have, for the sake of niches that we don’t even know exist,” he said.

Zammit Lewis slams PN’s coverage of Air Malta baguettes

Zammit Lewis hit out at a report that recently appeared on the front page of the PN’s Sunday newspaper that had mocked the quality of the baguettes that are now being offered to Air Malta’s economy passengers.

“The PN is accusing us of undertaking a cost-cutting exercise that will save Air Malta €4 million a year,” the Tourism Minister said. “We will suffer if we don’t start commercialising Air Malta, but we need the Opposition’s support.”

Arrigo said that people are moving towards cheap airline travel with no-frill attached and that Air Malta should sell the baguettes rather than giving them out for free, but that this should be reflected in the airline’s ticket fares.

“Air Malta’s decision to start selling hot meals was a feather in [chairperson] Maria Micallef’s cap,” Zammit Tabona said. “She had the guts to finally get things moving. The mentality of Air Malta’s management is in need of a drastic change and those people with yesterday’s mentality must be replaced.”

‘Past government was fully against low-cost airlines’

While all the speakers praised the success of low-cost airlines in improving Malta’s accessibility, Zammit Tabona said that the past government had been fully against their introduction.

“I had formed part of a pro-low-cost-airline lobby and I remember Austin Gatt telling me that low-cost-airlines will only be introduced in Malta over his dead body,” the hotelier said. “If it wasn’t for low-cost-airlines, tourism arrivals would have remained stagnant at around one million tourists per year. Instead, they’ve increased to 1.7 million annual arrivals.”

‘Away from the dominant English and Italian tourism market’

Zammit Lewis said that he wants to reduce Malta’s dependency on its traditional English and Italian tourism market.

“Tourism from the USA increased by 15% last year, while tourism from Switzerland increased by 12%,” Zammit Lewis said. “We are primarily seeking to attract more tourists from the USA, China, and India. The film industry is now in my portfolio and I will be looking to attract more Indian tourists to Malta by getting Bollywood to film here. Bollywood recently used Spain and Switzerland as film sets and Indian tourism to those countries increased significantly as a result.”  

However, Arrigo voiced concern over Malta’s attractiveness to Indian tourists.

“India is a very young country and the food they eat cannot be found over here,” he said. “Also, Brazilian tourists will continue to choose Spain and Portugal as their destinations because of the language issue. If it were up to me, I’d focus on attracting more German and Chinese tourists to Malta.”

Zammit Tabona called for a multi-million marketing campaign to promote Malta amongst potential Chinese tourists.

“I truly believe that Malta can attract 200,000 Chinese tourists every year but money will need to be spent on placing Malta on the Chinese map, as most Chinese have never even heard of Malta,” he said. “If the Tourism Ministry doesn’t have enough money for this campaign, then it should knock on the Finance Ministry’s door for more funds. It will ultimately be an investment, not expenditure.” 

Live current affairs programme Reporter, the second most-viewed discussion programme on Maltese TV, is presented by Saviour Balzan and produced by MediaToday. It is aired live every Monday at 8.40pm on TVM 2, with a repeat at 9:55pm on TVM 1.