Government intervention in economy needed, veteran tourism operator Tony Zahra says

Xtra Sajf | Tony Zahra is interviewed on his lifetime journey as a veteran tourism operator who started his business with one chauffeur-driven car in Sliema

Tony Zahra
Tony Zahra

International circumstances require the government to intervene in the economy by “smoothening the problems”, veteran tourism operator Tony Zahra said.

He highlighted the Ukraine war as one of the major problems on the horizon and defended government intervention to keep fuel and energy prices stable.

“It’s not just us. The German government has just bailed out a major energy company for more than €7 billion because it found itself in financial difficulty,” Zahra said when interviewed on TVM News Plus’s Xtra Sajf on Monday.

He said the COVID-19 support scheme was important to keep companies alive but acknowledged there were those who abused. “There were companies that abused but this does not mean the idea was wrong,” he added.

Zahra noted that economy was running at full speed but added the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia in 2017 did the country a lot of damage.

“It did us immense harm abroad. Everywhere I went I was asked about the murder and I am not sure that we did all we could. The judicial system still takes forever to deliver justice,” he said.

Interviewed by Saviour Balzan, the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, spoke about his beginnings in the tourism industry back in the 1960s.

“I wanted to build a hotel but I only had £250 back then and nobody would take me seriously so I decided to buy a car and started chauffeuring people around,” Zahra reminisced.

Having a garage close to the Imperial Hotel in Sliema, he struck a deal with the receptionist to direct tourists to his garage. A car trip from Sliema to Valletta would cost 50c but Zahra’s clients would tip him off with a further 50c.

“I started making good money and eventually bought cars to offer a self-drive service. Today, we still have this line of business and over 1,000 self-drive cars for hire,” Zahra said.

He also spoke of his relationship with various prime ministers over the years and the development of the tourism industry.

Zahra also spoke about the tragic loss of his daughter a few years ago and how he managed to get through the period with the help of his family. “I do not wish the loss of a son or daughter on anyone, more so in tragic circumstances like those of my daughter,” he said.