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A ‘brand’ new association

Boutique hotels in Valletta offer a unique experience.

Boutique hotels in Valletta offer a unique experience.

Two entrepreneurs have been working behind the scenes to persuade boutique hotel owners in Valletta to join forces – and are now ready to get things going.

Jankarl Farrugia and Mark Weigard, who have both got significant investments in the hospitality industry in Valletta, are well aware of the economies of scale that work against boutique hotels, particularly when it comes to marketing. This is why they came up with the idea of forming a voluntary association which could participate at fairs and conferences, particularly international ones.

“The association would achieve two aims: it would allow boutique hotels to promote themselves as a group – which would be prohibitively expensive for them to do alone, given the limited number of rooms.

“And it would also allow them to host small groups, rather than to cater to individual customers, by offering them accommodation spread across more than one hotel,” Mr Farrugia explained.

They have been working for the past year to gauge interest in forming the association, with Mr Weingard willing to put up the initial cost. To make it work, they believe that other stakeholders need to feed into the association, such as restaurants, theatres, museums and conference halls.

He said that the Mediterranean Conference Centre had already expressed interest, and they plan to engage with V18, the Malta Tourism Authority and even Is-Suq tal-Belt, which also plans to host exhibitions and events.

“We could collaborate with the film and fashion industry, concert organisers, destination management companies, wedding planners… the list is quite long and there are obvious bilateral synergies.”

Apart from working to create a pipeline of possible guests for its members, the association could also act as a lobbyist.

“There are numerous restrictions on construction work in Valletta, as you would imagine given its World Heritage status – all of which increase costs and reduce viability. But we would be able to lobby more effectively with the authorities for flexibility if we could speak with one voice,” Mr Farrugia said.

“We will clearly be happy to work informally with the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, but the idea is to be independent, as what we are after is to create a Valletta brand.”

The idea of an association comes at an opportune time as there are around 20 boutique hotels planned for Valletta within a few years – in fact, when Mr Farrugia first came up with the idea 18 months ago, there was little interest from the few operators at the time.

To be concise, at the moment, few boutique hotels are actually entitled to use the name, as under the current Malta Tourism Authority categories, only premises with a restaurant can be called a ‘hotel’ – which means they are technically guesthouses. However, Parliament will soon be changing the legislation, adding more categories and labels to reflect the diversity of accommodation now on offer.

“There was clearly a niche for which there was demand. But it is a problem to go from hardly any to so many. The last thing we would want is to get into the ‘rate game’, as cutting rates to compete eventually forces the hotels to cut service. We should avoid getting into a situation of ‘survival of the fittest’ which we can do by putting up a common shout for Valletta.”

An information meeting is being organised in the coming weeks. Any entity interested in more information may e-mail [email protected]

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