Home Hotel industry Our optimism has fallen flat. We must act now – Claire...

Our optimism has fallen flat. We must act now – Claire Zammit Xuereb

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Imagine this: in March 2020 all hotels in Malta and Gozo closed their doors. Almost overnight, the pandemic shattered the hospitality industry. The tourism sector, the cornerstone of the Maltese economy, has all but disappeared amid an airport closure and lockdown-like restrictions across the island.

At AX Hotels, we have also felt the brick wall effects of the pandemic. Despite this, throughout this difficult time, we have remained positive and believed that the international roll-out of vaccination would allow us to return to normal activity before long.

Today, and in hindsight, our persistence and optimism of months ago have collapsed.

Of course, at first glance, we seem to be going through the situation we had envisioned with so much hope. Malta has a vaccination program which is one of the best in Europe – if not the world – and the airport is once again welcoming tourists. However, ironically, despite the mass return of visitors and customers, we must now refuse reservations and close the points of sale.

Why? Because, like many in Malta’s hotel industry, we do not have enough employees to properly serve clients, especially by the standards of excellence we stand for at AX Hotels.

After the colossal blow of the pandemic, foreign workers – who made up 70% of our workforce – returned to their countries of origin. Most did not return. These were cleaners, waiters, housekeepers, chefs, reps and other vital team members from every level imaginable in our industry.

As we reopen amid Malta’s valiant vaccination efforts, our workforce is weathering yet another storm for which they are not responsible. The remaining less than 30 percent – now reduced to 15 percent of the total workforce – are locals who have yet to lose faith in the industry and are now desperately trying to make up the deficit.

What are we proposing to reverse and reduce the exodus of foreign workers?– Claire Zammit Xuereb

Our entire AX Hotels team is literally exhausted. Morale is at its lowest. This is understandable, given that every coworker has longer shifts than ever before and seemingly endless hours with no hope for the situation to improve.

We train our team to deliver exceptional service: the foundation of our brand promise. It has been a year of hardship; nonetheless, we have maintained our ethics despite the few clients and even fewer staff.

The situation is so bad here in Malta that local establishments are on the verge of turning away customers and refusing hotel and restaurant reservations, which will have detrimental effects, both short and long term.

We regret this situation because it was not to be so. While so many aspects of the pandemic went unseen, the end was still in sight and a clear path should have been mapped out to ensure success.

It’s a bitter pill to swallow at the end of what has already been the most difficult period in the history of the Maltese hotel industry. So we ask: what comes next for us? What incentives, initiatives or benefits are offered to reverse and mitigate the outflow of foreign workers? What strategy are the authorities implementing to both support the valuable workers who choose the hospitality industry today and encourage the people we need to develop and support the sector tomorrow?

We must act now. As we invest more of the time, money and energy to best serve visitors to Malta in 2021 and help the island compete in the future, we know that good and abundant human resources will help raise all the challenges and successes along the way.

To achieve this hard-earned success, we need a serious action plan that will save jobs and industry – today before tomorrow. Every hour that goes without a national action plan is another hour of heavy loss for our business and therefore for the Maltese economy, both now and in the years to come.

There is no time to waste and I am ready to provide the necessary information to the industry to take the necessary action. Only then can we hope to do what we do best: welcoming and serving Maltese guests.

Until then, I encourage anyone looking for immediate hospitality employment to call us directly or visit www.axcareersmalta.com/find-a-job/.

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