From the price of steak to foreign workers

Are we attracting quality tourists? What impact does the skills card have?

With an investment of €40 million, the Malta Marriott Resort & Spa, a five-star establishment overlooking Balluta Bay in St Julian’s has now been classified at the ‘resort’ level. Why was the investment made now? Are we attracting quality tourists? What impact does the skills card have? We discussed all this with the General Manager of the hotel, Alex Incorvaja.

Alex Incorvaja.

They were on the verge of opening, but…

Before anything else, he explained that Le Meridien in St Julian’s is one of the brands of Marriott International, a company that has 9,000 hotels around the world. In 2018, this hotel closed its doors for a complete renovation costing €35 million. It reopened in January 2020 as the Malta Marriott Hotel, but two months later the pandemic struck and they had to close their doors again. It was only last year that they could say they had fully recovered.

“Unlike other hotels, during the pandemic we were already closed for 15 months. The owners kept everyone — more than 125 full-time employees — on the payroll. They were tasked with other duties, such as removing all the furniture to carry out the renovation of 301 rooms,” explained the General Manager. He added, “The wage supplement was very helpful. I don’t think there was a single hotel that would have survived without this assistance.”

Thanks to the support they received and the resilience of the workers, they also continued to invest. Last summer, the final part of the investment was completed and the hotel reopened as the Malta Marriott Resort & Spa. With investments in both indoor and outdoor swimming pools, the hotel has been classified as a ‘resort property’ and is now also attracting what is called a ‘leisure traveller’ of a certain level.

They are arriving, but how much are they spending?

According to the National Statistics Office, between January and April of this year, 888,118 tourists arrived in Malta, an increase of 25.1% over the same period in 2023. The total number of nights spent rose by 12.7%, almost reaching 5.1 million nights. Tourist spending was estimated at €646.8 million, 26.2% higher than in the same period of 2023.
However, the per capita spending rose to €728 from €722 in the same period of 2023, an increase of 0.8%. Focusing on per capita spending aligns more with the goals of sustainable tourism, as it encourages attracting fewer tourists who spend more, thereby reducing environmental and social pressures on the destination.

Discussing this aspect, Incorvaja stressed the need to increase the capacity of ‘legacy carriers’, the established and main airlines that travel to and from large markets such as the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Italy. While he acknowledged that it is common for people to travel with low-cost airlines, he noted that these types of airlines do not accommodate markets such as those linked to conferences. He also explained the importance of connections with transatlantic flight hubs, major airports that serve as main connection points for flights between North America and Europe.

The Skills Pass

The general manager stated that he is very happy with the hotel’s workers, about 70% of whom are foreigners, because they all have a great passion for the industry. Unfortunately, he shared with us the reality that many Maltese prefer work opportunities that do not involve such long hours and work on weekends.

While he agrees with the skills pass initiative, Incorvaja explained that the hotel invests heavily in the training of its workers, both Maltese and foreign. He expressed concern that the fees required to obtain the skills pass might discourage workers from applying for jobs in Malta, potentially driving them to seek employment elsewhere in Europe. This concern is particularly relevant unless the hotel itself covers the costs associated with obtaining the skills pass. This initiative aims to ensure that employees in these sectors meet minimum national standards, as recognised by the stakeholders involved during the public consultation process.

How much are you willing to pay for a fillet steak?

The general manager of the Malta Marriott Resort & Spa stated that the subsidy on energy prices is highly beneficial, as it alleviates a significant burden on the industry.

“I am speaking as a hotelier. It helps a lot because the price of many things has skyrocketed. When someone asks if it’s necessary to charge €40 for a fillet steak, considering the costs involved in bringing the plate to the customer, the answer is yes. Of course, it will be cheaper at home,” said Incorvaja. “This is precisely why we invested in our property, to have prices that match the type of service and experience we offer.”

He also noted that Malta has one of the lowest average rates for five-star hotel accommodation compared to other European countries. “Therefore, it is crucial that we attract affluent tourists while providing them with value for what they spend,” reiterated Incorvaja.

The National Strategy for Tourism, leading up to 2030, advocates for a more balanced mix between quantity and quality. It emphasises less focus on sheer volume growth and more on enhancing the quality of the offering to improve visitor satisfaction, in line with sustainable development guidelines.

Meanwhile, Malta continues to excel in the number of tourist arrivals. As sustainability and quality are currently the top priorities, it is time to shift the emphasis to tourist expenditure rather than just the number of arrivals.

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