For Alex Incorvaja, 2023 may bring along its challenges, but the crises rocking the globe over the past few years have resulted in productive shifts of perspective.
His comments were featured as part of Business Now Winter 2022/2023 edition’s cover story, which seeks to tackle the impossible: predicting what will happen in 2023.
“I believe the pandemic has reminded us of what a fantastic industry we work in,” says Alex Incorvaja, in his assessment for what lies ahead over the next 12 months. “The recovery has made us more appreciative of how rewarding it is to work in the hospitality sector, where we have started to see travel return to what we knew it as pre-2020.”
Indeed, he says, looking ahead, “tourist arrivals to Malta are largely expected to rebound to pre-COVID record levels over the next 12 to 18 months, as we see the flight network of routes and frequencies increase in the coming months to reach 2019 numbers. Connectivity is key for Malta’s recovery,” he says, although he adds that “airline seat capacity is still hovering around 80 per cent compared to 2019 levels.”
Whilst this 20 per cent can be regarded as marginal, he continues, the drop in capacity is far greater from the UK and Germany (with other smaller, secondary markets absorbing these more significant shortfalls). “However, these two feeder markets are the most important geographic contributors to five-star hotels, as guest spend is higher; the countries are also major hubs for transatlantic connectivity and are crucial for the meetings and incentive market, a segment which hotels like the Malta Marriott rely on in the low and shoulder season months.” Despite this, there are signs to be hopeful, for, “with the prospect of Malta’s most important source markets levelling out to 2019 levels in terms of seat capacity as of quarter two in 2023, we can look to next year with cautious optimism and a return to a sustainable tourism industry,” he asserts
Ensuring the survival of Malta’s national airline is imperative, in his view, for this outlook to remain strong. “Air Malta is part of our national identity, a selling point to the islands and one that has made tourism one of the largest and most important economic contributors to Malta’s GDP over the years. It also serves some of Malta’s most important routes and hubs, with frequencies that other airlines don’t necessarily offer throughout the year. This is crucial for all segments, be it corporate, leisure or group travel,” he asserts.
Moreover, Mr Incorvaja stresses the importance of amassing the required human resources in Malta. This is one of the most pressing matters to address, he says. “The exodus of talent from the industry during the pandemic has left us with tremendous obstacles to deliver our promise to guests,” he explains. “We have not only seen this within hotels, but also across the aviation, airport, and food and beverage sectors. A shortage of supply in the labour market, both locally and from within the EU, has led us to rely on third-country nationals – which is fine, as there is a superb pool of talent from these parts of the world. However, the lengthy process and red tape for granting visas is hindering the gap to fill many of the existing vacancies.”
Tourism in Malta must remain competitive, despite these challenges, he continues, though he points out that external factors such as inflation, the energy crisis, and the increase in the cost of labour “have to be factored into our operation and somehow need to be absorbed into our pricing structure. Value for money therefore remains key to our success,” he says. This applies both “at property level” – at the Marriott itself – and in Malta and Gozo, as a whole. “These are global challenges and not just unique to Malta, so therefore, I believe that travellers will expect to pay more for their travels. Yet this will only happen if we provide value for money in a global competitive marketplace.”
The General Manager is, indeed, ensuring the hotel is geared up for this reality. “Being part of Marriott International’s global travel programme Bonvoy (with Marriott Hotels being one of the most recognised of its portfolio’s 30 diverse brands), Malta Marriott – following its €30 million renovation and rebranding programme in 2018/9 – is set to achieve far greater visibility and leverage from the programme’s 160 million+ loyal members, including the North American market This, as we are already seeing, is giving the hotel, and of course Malta, a great opportunity to attract more travellers from this part of the world,” he states.
Summing up, he is confident in the resilience of the Maltese economy, and the tourism industry, in particular, since travel will “hopefully remain an essential commodity for both leisure and business travellers in 2023 and beyond.”
This feature was first carried in the Business Now Winter 2022/2023 edition. Business Now magazine is the sister brand to BusinessNow.mt, both produced by Content House Group
Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa General Manager Alex Incorvaja / Photo by Alan Carville
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