Malta's tourism sectors continue to report improvements on most key performance indicators in the first quarter of the year compared to the same period last year.

The BOV-MHRA Survey Q1 2014, carried out by Deloitte, showed that all sectors reported reductions in their low season gross operating losses.

In the five-star sector the gross operating loss per available room decreased by 46.5 per cent mainly as a result of improved rates (a 4.8 per cent increase in average room rate) and occupancy (an increase of almost 12 per cent).

Four-star hotels registered a 16.6 per cent reduction in gross operating losses resulting from an increase in average room rate (8.3 per cent) but a one per cent drop in occupancy.

The three-star sector also saw a reduction on gross operating losses of 26.2 per cent resulting from a 9.4 per cent increase in occupancy but a drop of 1.6 per cent in average room rate.

Overall tourist arrivals increased by 7.9 per cent in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year. Collective accommodation saw an 8.1 per cent increase in arrivals but a 0.5 drop in guest nights.

In contrast, guest nights increased by 16.4 per cent in private accommodation where arrivals increased by 7.2 per cent.

This could be due to an increase in expats, people staying with family and friends and tourists opting for rentals.

Martin Webster, from Curmi and Partners, said he was concerned about a trend of visitors using unlicensed accommodation and this was "not good for the sector". His suspicion stemmed from the fact that high arrivals did not translate into better occupancy rates.

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said he was committed to working towards sustainability and listed various measures including plans to slash utility rates and amend height limitations for hotels.

MHRA president Paul Bugeja spoke about ways to improve the sector. He spoke about turning back the VAT rate to five per cent and restructuring Air Malta to follow the BOV model.

He also stressed on the need to ensure that the Maltese identity was promoted by engaging more Maltese as front-liners in the industry.

Helena Egan, from TripAdvisor, said that between 2012 and 2013 there had been a 26 per cent growth of the amount of times Malta was viewed as a destination on the travelling website that attracts 260 million people each month.

The site had 176 hotels listed, 97 bed-and-breakfasts and 1,503 rentals among the Maltese registrations. Some 67 per cent of the property registered was registered by owner. The site received a 31 per cent management response rate.

The site had 417 winners on Malta of the certificate of excellence but not enough celebrated this.

Dr Nadia Teuma, from the University of Malta,spoke about the European Tourism Indicator System being piloted in Malta and other countries to measure sustainability.

Through the pilot the Institute for Tourism, Travel and Culture would be using a new indicator tool kit to carry out research over the next six months.

This took kit set benchmarks to measure some 61 indicators to measure sustainability that include destination management indicators, economic value, social and cultural impact and environmental impacts.

"It is time that we really find a means to assess tourism sustainability in our island for us to remain competitive," she said adding that the results of the research would be improved data for policy decision making.

The aim of the pilot was for sustainability to become a standard performance indicator at EU level.

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