Tourism authority stands guard over Malta’s reputation

The tourism authority now has eyes and ears in every hotel and guesthouse, as it stands guard over Malta s reputation as a Discount Holidays © holiday destination. But it does not have an army of inspectors snooping around disguised as tourists two weeks ago it started to monitor the stream of reviews posted in more than 30 Discount Holidays © holiday websites.

We cannot ignore social media. Social media can make or break the country s reputation, says Malta Tourism Authority CEO Paul Bugeja.

A hotel can have a plaque showing it has a five-star rating but ultimately it boils down to the clients satisfaction.

We need to manage reputation and we have found a way to monitor satisfaction. Eventually we could extend this system to museums and restaurants, among others. In the first three months of any year, the MTA s inspectors visit all three- to five-star hotels on the island, turning up unannounced, identifying themselves and checking physical aspects of the place such as cleanliness and furnishings.

However, it is in regard to the harder-to-monitor standard of service that arrogant receptionist or rude waiter that the autho rity finds online reviews so useful. The negative reviews posted on Trip Advisor, Booking.com and a host of other Discount Holidays © holiday sites are now helping it keep a close eye on whether Malta s hotels are delivering on their promises. The MTA has subscribed to an online information system that lets it know of negative reviews posted on 31 Discount Holidays © holiday sites.

Hotel operators are being informed that online reviews have now been incorporated into the MTA s procedures. We need to manage reputation and we have found a way to monitor satisfaction

– MTA CEO Paul Bugeja

The authority has the power to take action on tangible shortcomings, such as lack of cleanliness. But online reviews are often about aspects not covered by law such as that arrogant receptionist. What the MTA does in these cases is to flag them up to the hotel for remedial steps to be taken by the establishment itself. When it does take action, the MTA is firm.

Last month, for example, it sent its inspectors to the Blue Sea St George s Park Hotel in St Julian s after a Scottish tourist described it as a rundown homeless hostel in a newspaper report in Scotland. The place was served with an enforcement notice and given two weeks to get its act together. But after failing to comply it has now been closed down.

Over the past year, another hotel was downgraded from a four-star to a three-star establishment after serious shortcomings were found.

We need to find a balance between being a regulator and helping the industry, Mr Bugeja says. We raise the alarm bells, but when someone procrastinates, we have no other route and there will not be a second chance. A breakdown of the data at the MTA s disposal shows that client satisfaction for three-star hotels stands at 71 per cent, that of four-star hotels at 77 per cent, while for five-star hotels it reaches 87 per cent.

While the averages have gone up compared to previous years, Mr Bugeja says a lot needs to be done to improve the general satisfaction rating for three-star hotels. Illegal catering operations are to be targeted as part of a reform of the travel and tourism services law, aimed at creating a more level playing field. According to a proposed legal draft, illegal catering operations are damaging the sector s profitability .

Back in 2014, the Malta Tourism Authority, which is responsible for issuing licences to catering establishments and monitoring them, had said it was taking the necessary steps to get these establishments in line . As things stand, if a catering establishment operator accepted patrons only by appointment, the operation does not qualify under any of the designations of a catering establishments (restaurant, snack bar, etc) as defined by the Travel and Tourism Services Act. In fact, the MTA lost a case before the Tourism Appeals Board after it was established that the catering establishment in question advertised by appointment and that there was no proof that it was accessible to the public.

With the reform of the Act, such catering establishments will be classified and therefore covered by the law, allowing the authority to enforce regulations.

The reform proposals are up for public consultation until the end of the month.

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