The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) is making a profit of some €500 a head from tourists forced to spend two weeks isolating in the two Covid-19 quarantine hotels, The Shift can reveal. The fortnight’s sojourn is costing quarantined tourists around €1,500 in total.
The Tourism Ministry, which has so far contracted two hotels to host visitors placed under obligatory quarantine, continues to refuse to divulge details of the separate deals it struck with the Corinthia and the ST Hotels groups respectively, citing “commercial sensitivity”.
The tourism authorities claim the selection of the two establishments was carried out via a public tender.
An investigation by The Shift shows that quarantined visitors held at the Marina Hotel in St Julian’s and the ST Sliema Hotel, in Sliema, are being charged €100 a night, though the hotels are actually keeping much less, with the difference being pocketed by the MTA.
MTA sources told The Shift that “while all the rooms at the two hotels have been booked by the MTA until the end of September, with charges for the MTA ranging between €60 and €70 a night, the hotels have been ordered by the MTA to charge €100 a night and pay a refund to the MTA.”
This means that while the hotels are being paid some €1000 from each guest the MTA sends, the state tourism agency is making a profit of around €500 per person from this pandemic.
Describing the MTA’s decision as “immoral”, industry sources also confirmed to The Shift that the MTA has inflated the charges to be paid by guests even though this is an exceptional measure that mostly hits students with very low budgets.
The charges being paid by Covid-19 quarantined guests only cover accommodation and do not include other essential services such as food, cleaning, and laundry facilities.
Industry sources told The Shift that it is not known yet why the MTA, headed by former Labour Minister Gavin Gulia, has decided to overcharge tourists this way, although it is not excluded that this is being done to cover some additional costs related to the Covid-19 hotels.
These costs include the presence of 24/7 police officers inside the two establishments to ensure that confined guests do not come out of their rooms or the hotel grounds.
Silence from the MTA
The MTA has refused to give any information about how it selected these two hotels, and has failed to explain why it has chosen to make profits from people who are caught in the quarantine trap.
“The MTA should charge these poor guests the real cost price and not make a profit from an already sorry situation,” the sources said.
“What is worse is that guests are blaming the hotels and not the MTA,” they added.
The MTA has turned down requests for an explanation including an FOI request to publish information on the public procurement process used, on which hotels tendered offers, on the prices offered and on what criteria the two hotels currently being used were selected.
Although the MTA has said that it carried out the process through a public tender, which is supposed to be transparent and accountable, with all information normally made public, the state tourism agency has refused to divulge any details.
Rejecting two FOIs made by The Shift, the MTA said it can’t give any information on the public procurement process it used due to “commercial confidentiality and sensitivity.”
However, industry sources described this reply by the MTA as ‘pathetic’ and said that the only reason the agency is failing to share the information is because it’s seeking to hide the fact that it’s profiting from the ongoing pandemic.
MTA sources told The Shift that it’s not excluded that a third hotel may soon be declared as a pandemic hotel, as both the Corinthia Marina and the ST Sliema hotel are almost full to their capacity.
Tourists forced to stay at the two hotels have complained about the ‘exorbitant’ charges they are facing to quarantine in Malta, especially as in many cases this expense was not planned for.
The quarantine hotels are a result of a new law, put in place at the start of summer, which requires travellers to present a PCR test result or a vaccination certification before departing.
Those who arrive in Malta without the required documents are forced to stay at the quarantine hotels for a fortnight until they can travel back to their respective countries.