Malta’s tourism market risks being distorted by a new scheme intended to encourage tourists to stay at upmarket hotels, a self-catering apartment owner has warned.
“Self-catering apartments have become a crucial part of the tourism industry in recent years, attracting people who are after larger spaces, a place they can work remotely and cook their own meals, essentially a home away from home,” the owner, who remained anonymous, told Lovin Malta.
“When the pandemic hit, our businesses stopped just as hotels did and we were pleased when the Tourism Ministry announced a package to help the industry recover by summer… that is until the Ministry announced how.”
Last week, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo launched a scheme worth €3.5 million to encourage foreign tourists to stay at a three, four or five-star hotel.
The government will pay tourists €100 if they stay at a five-star hotel, €75 if they stay at a four-star hotel, and €50 if they stay at a three-star hotel.
Hotels must evenly match this amount, which means tourists who stay at a five-star hotel will be entitled to €200, tourists who stay at a four-star hotel will be entitled to €150, and tourists who stay at a three-star hotel will be entitled to €100.
Sicily had launched a very similar scheme last summer, although it had gone a step further and also offered to partially refund tourists’ flight costs.
The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association welcomed the initiative as a sign that the government is committed to moving beyond rhetoric and providing support to the industry as it tries to overcome its hardest 12-month period since the early 60s.
However, the Maltese self-catering apartment owner warned the scheme will ultimately give hotels a competitive advantage over people like him and suggested it could even amount to illegal state aid.
“Self-catering apartment owners pay MTA license fees and collect eco-tax just like hotels do,” he noted. “We’re treated like hotels and follow the rules but now we’re being discriminated against.”
“It’s going to distort the market by favouring one part of a sector to another part of that same sector. This is ultimately state aid, and there are very strict rules surrounding state aid.”
He suggested that the government instead offer to refund tourists’ flight tickets and provide them with vouchers to spend at licensed tourist establishments of their choice.
The Gozo Tourism Association has called for self-catering accommodations to be included in this scheme, arguing they amount to some 75% of the island’s total touristic establishments.
A spokesperson for the Tourism Ministry told Lovin Malta that details on how self-catering apartments will be assisted will be published in the coming weeks.
Bartolo has pledged to invest €20 million in a series of aid packages targeted at specific parts of the tourism industry, with the plan being to help the battered industry recover and start welcoming tourists as of 1st June.
Do you agree with the self-catering accommodation owner’s logic? How do you think Malta should rebuild its tourism industry? Let us know what you think in the comments section