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News • September 05 2004

VISET looks forward to record year for 2005

David Lindsay

Malta’s sinking cruise liner tourist numbers and the operations of VISET, the company tasked with revitalising Valletta’s sea passenger terminal, have both been dealt a good deal of criticism over these last closing weeks of summer.
Figures published recently by the National Statistics Office reveal a listing tourism sector, with this year’s first seven months showing a year on year drop of 36 per cent and the month of July’s year on year figures show a 33 per cent drop. This translates into respective decreases of over 66,000 and 18,500.
VISET Chief Executive Officer Chris Falzon, however, set the record straight this week in an interview to be published in MaltaToday’s sister newspaper, The Malta Financial and Business Times, on Wednesday.
Speaking about upcoming prospects for the sector, he explains that VISET has a good number of firm bookings in place for next year and believes that 2005 could, in fact, be a record year.
Explaining the decline in cruise liner tourists this year, Mr Falzon deems it unfortunate that when people review the statistics they tend to make year on year comparisons for an industry that is prone to sudden, sometimes fickle, changes.
Last year’s figures were, in fact, inflated due to international geopolitical instability, including the advent of the Iraq war, which saw cruise liners and passengers becoming increasingly wary of visiting the eastern Mediterranean. Cruise liners had accordingly altered their itineraries to include more calls at western Mediterranean ports – Malta included.
Now that cruise liners are once again calling at eastern Mediterranean ports, calls to Malta’s port have once again levelled off following 2003’s surge.
He explains that the EU tax protocol inherited with membership, which allows cruise liners to operate their profitable duty-free concessions only if their itinerary includes a port of call outside the EU, did lead to some loss of business, but a significant amount. What was lost through the EU tax protocol has, in fact, been recovered through new business garnered.
“This industry is no stranger to sudden changes,” he explains, “but overall, the industry is in a very good state, firstly because there are many new ships coming on stream, many of which are being brought to the Mediterranean.
“In addition to this, operators are trying to increase their Mediterranean operations during the winter months. May are exploring this option, which would clearly mean increased business for Malta, being in the sunnier part of the region.
“Having said that, there is a lot of potential and prospects are looking good. We are looking forward to a very busy November and December. However, a lot depends on how stable the southern Mediterranean region is going to be over the period. Given stability, the outlook is very positive.”
Although Malta cannot be considered one of the region’s top ports of call, such as Rome or Athens for example, Mr Falzon explains, “we at VISET are a very ambitious port and we genuinely believe Malta has one of the most beautiful ports in the world.
“We have a big advantage in that, we speak English and, because Malta is comparatively so small, our airport and sites are all very close to the port.”
Mr Falzon stresses that Malta’s advantages as a port need to be highlighted through a concerted effort from all stakeholders in the industry to boost Malta’s appeal as both a port of call and as a home port – an area currently being explored in depth by VISET.
“We have been trying to get all parties on board by setting up the Malta Cruise Network, which aims to develop and maintain the product, and which we have been trying to launch and relaunch. We have, however, had a lot of resistance from the Malta Tourism Authority, which we have always thought very important to be on board, and we don’t understand what they really intend to do in respect of the Network.
“Malta’s industry has always been on a solid footing, but what we need to do is brand Malta properly. However, when people publishing letters in the paper without knowing what they are talking about, they end up doing much more harm than good.
“As an example, someone wrote last Sunday that we intend raising our tariffs. I don’t know where such things come from but this is absolute rubbish, we have no such intention.”
Mr Falzon also discredits rumours alleging VISET is to scale down its end product as a result of poor figures. “Again, this is absolute rubbish. If anything, it’s more a case of scaling up. What people need to understand is that anyone who publishes such completely unfounded rumours is doing harm to the industry, himself, his family and his country.”
A full, wide-ranging interview with Mr Falzon will be published in Wednesday’s edition of The Malta Financial and Business Times.






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