Joseph Muscat has joined forces with renowned local data researcher Vincent Marmara to forecast the potential impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on consumer behaviour in Malta.
In their report, a copy of which has been seen by Lovin Malta, Muscat and Marmara predicted that aggregate household consumption will fall by around 34% for as long as COVID-19 remains within the community.
It will then rebound significantly after a vaccine is made available, but still remain lower than pre-pandemic levels.
The predictions are based off a survey conducted by Marmara’s company data research Sagalytics during the second week of May among a random sample of 600 people, stratified to be representative of the general population with a margin of error of +/- 4%.
“The Office of Joseph Muscat” then conducted an economic analysis based off the figures, the second economic analysis the former Prime Minister, who resigned last January after his chief of staff Keith Schembri was implicated in the assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia, has conducted in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
So what does the report say?
Based off the results, aggregate consumption will fall by around 34%, rising to 81% for services and goods that bring people in closer proximity with others – namely restaurants, cafeterias, retail outlets, domestic and foreign holidays, public transport, ride hailing and taxis.
Consumption will then rise significantly if and when a vaccine is made available, but it will still remain lower than pre-pandemic levels – by around 6% on aggregate and by around 10% for the aforementioned goods and services.
However, this prediction comes with a caveat.
“This result must be read within the context of a general public that has been targeted, day in, day out, by what is arguably the largest ever, unplanned but coordinated, inter governmental and global media campaign in human history,” the report read.
“The single message being played over and over again by practically every public official and media channel worldwide was on the need to stay inside and the daily dead tolls from around the world. Caution was necessary during a period of emergency.”
“A sudden change in messaging is unlikely to happen, and even when it gradually happens, it is unlikely to immediately change the predominant mindset,” the report continues. “Nevertheless, as the narrative slowly changes, one might see a more positive shift in outlook, and thus confidence and consumption, by consumers. As a result, these findings need to be read within this evolving context.”
Despite these fears, the study found that government incentives will be an effective tool in stimulating demand, but not enough to boost demand to pre-pandemic levels.
For example, demand for internal tourism can increase threefold if the government offers incentives, but economic activity would still be less than half of what it was pre-pandemic.
“The low proportion of respondents that are likely to make use of services that are considered to pose a relatively higher risk of contagion, even after financial incentives are in place, implies that a proportion of consumers are not convinced of the safety of the establishments offering these services, and need to be reassured about them,” the report reads.
“The wider implication is that if it is a challenge for local establishments to claim the confidence of local consumers who are already familiar with them, it will be more of an uphill struggle with foreign consumers visiting as tourists.”
Muscat urged the government to provide initiatives aimed at gearing businesses to adapt to transparent sanitary standard operating procedures.
“These procedures cannot be considered as overheads but rather as a necessary investment to maintain the confidence even of regular clients, let alone attracting new ones,” he wrote. “This in turn implies that the relaxation of COVID-19 measures needs to be complemented by both financial aid and clear guidelines that help reassure the general public of the safety of the establishments they wish to visit.”