Maltese travel agencies have been left struggling to make ends meet as concern over the COVID-19 coronavirus has led to a declining global appetite for travel.
Abigail Mamo, CEO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, said that while all sectors are worrying about the potential economic impacts of the virus, none have been as badly hit so far as travel agencies, particularly those who had bought packages from cruise ship operators and who are now struggling to sell them.
“They did what they normally do but no one could see this coming,” she told Lovin Malta, referring to how fewer people are interested in traveling these days in case they contract the coronavirus.
Mamo urged the government to rescue these companies, and any others that might also feel a hit in the near future, by applying the EU’s de-minimis rules, which allow governments to provide businesses with up to €200,000 in state aid over three years without having to notify the European Commission in advance. She said this should be used to cover the agencies’ running costs, such as salaries and utility bills, and that the government should also consider applying a tax moratorium.
“These businesses need a breather or they will exit the market and people will end up without jobs,” she warned. “Once we pass through this period, we’re going to need an economy to stand on.”
Arguing that Malta’s priorities have changed, she also urged the government to put certain projects on hold and focus its efforts on ensuring high-quality healthcare and on sustaining the economy.
The SME Chamber will conduct a detailed weekly analysis among sectors to monitor the situation and present reports on such analysis to the government to request support depending on how the scenario develops.
It has also prepared posters with information on the virus for businesses to stick up in their premises. The posters advise customers to refrain from shaking hands, to keep a precautionary distance of one metre and not to interact with staff if they’ve travelled to a high-risk area or been around people coming form high-risk areas over the past two weeks.
Meanwhile, PN MEP Roberta Metsola called for the temporary relaxation of EU state aid rules due to the coronavirus situation.
“We need to adapt our models to ensure employees and self-employed people that they can keep on working as we minimise the risk to their health,” she said. “We know that many small and large businesses, in Malta, Gozo and around Europe, will face problems because of the coronavirus and we must ensure they have access to urgent funds to recover quickly.”