vendredi, avril 28, 2006

Not So Thatcherite After All

Austin Gatt may revel in the comparisons that are made between his methods and those of the Iron Lady but his performance at the opening of the Amitex Fair would bring him closer to Mintoffian nanny-statism than Thatcherite planning. Gatt is the latest government member to take up the baton of crusader and defender of all things Air Malta. According to the Minister, Air Malta's 1,000 jobs are to be protected at all costs. The right to travel at moderate prices will remain a no-go area for the Maltese taxpayer so long as the government persists in this hard headedness.

Even if we were to ignore the international preferences and developments in the low-cost carrier market and the never ending additions to the existent markets, the Maltese government's excuses still remain anachronistic and hypocritical. The same government that toys with Price Orders (although as a last resort) ignores completely the needs of the consumers and citizens and comes up with feeble answers to the low-cost carrier proposal.

Gatt claims that Ryanair want a subsidy whereas Air Malta make no losses. Ryanair does not ask for a subsidy. It asks for a business agreement with government where Ryanair sets targets which it promises to reach in exchange for preferential fares. Air Malta makes no losses. How? By charging the taxpayer much more than the flight really costs. Gatt will tell you that opting for Ryanair will get you the rubbish tourist. Balderdash. First of all I do not think that Air Malta is bringing in some high end tourists - check out its package offers to get a taste of the travelling elite that Air Malta caters for. Secondly it is a known fact that in today's world the intelligent travel looks to minimise travel costs in order to spend more out of his wallet at the destination.

True, there are carriers which still think like Air Malta. Luxair is an excellent example. But they are few and far between. The thing is that the travel market is more and more oriented towards destinations reached by cheap carriers. The only choice that the Maltese government is making vis-a-vis tourists is to keep Malta out of the loop. Take the Benelux... served by Ryanair in Charleroi (BE), Amsterdam (NE) and Frankfurt Hahn (Lux) - how serious a destination can an Air Malta flight to Malta be (or Lufthansa or SN Brussels Airways for what it matters) when you can choose to fly to Croatia, Puglia, Sardinia, Costa del Sol, Costa Brava - for a fraction of the price? And those flying Air Malta? Well they happen to be those tourists who fall for a 400€ week + flight package to Malta that can be found on offer in most tourist agencies in the Benelux (competing with Djerba, Cyprus and Sicily among others). Not exactly a golfer/elite tourist puller is it?

The formula that the government wants to sell you is the following "low-cost flights = low-cost tourism". It could not be farther from the truth. The two groups are not mutually inclusive and I suspect Austin knows that. Unfortunately he is too busy towing the line and being the spokesperson on this issue for a cabinet that does not know its Ryanair from its Virgin Airlines.

So next time you see that cheap package tourist walk by with a Jet Tours or TUI bag in his hand do not wonder where they keep coming from. Thank Austin Gatt and his army of efficient overpriced workers at Air Malta.

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