Tourism Authority blames COVID for huge budget overruns

The Tourism Authority says its massive €20 million overspending is due to the coronavirus pandemic, but has not provided any figures to support this claim.

Times of Malta The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) said last week that it predicted a loss of €21 million by the end of 2022.

The body’s annual budget is 108 million euros. In response to questions sent, the MTA did not provide any figures for its spending, stating instead that it was “due to the unprecedented international situation in recent years.”

“The MTA has had to drastically increase its efforts to bring more tourists to the island as we strive to rebuild the sector,” an official said.

Sources say that in recent weeks the MTA has submitted a request for additional funding, but it has not yet been approved, despite the fact that lenders have begun to accumulate funds to pay.

The organization was ordered to provide a detailed breakdown of spending, which one senior government insider described as “hard to justify”.

Insiders and industry sources indicate that the authorities are spending money on “events, luxury goods and sponsorships.” In the meantime, a spokesman for the Malta Tourism Authority said that several post-COVID recovery schemes have been implemented in the first few months of 2022.

“This included assistance to tour operators and event organizers, as well as other niches that the Malta Tourism Authority is working hard to promote, such as family tourism, sports tourism and religious tourism,” the spokesman said.

The MTA says they have also spent time and money marketing and improving their presence in other European countries. The authorities have repeatedly faced accusations of financial mismanagement.

In April, Johann Buttigić stepped down as chief executive of the tourism office after three years in the position. The reason for his resignation was not given, but it came at a time when the government was being criticized for how it spends public funds.

The former head of MTA events, Buttigieg’s deputy, was effectively demoted in January after Times of Malta exposed how he booked luxury hotel rooms with taxpayer money. Lionel Gerada was stripped of all decision-making powers and his role was subsequently abolished.

The tourism ministry did not respond to a request for comment.

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