It is common knowledge that the tourism sector in Malta is a booming industry nowadays. With a large number of diversified hotels and restaurants, our little gem in the middle of the Mediterranean has become a hot spot for tourists who want to have a taste of the island life and all that accompanies it. However, this was not always the case; there was a time where the sector was a far cry away from what we know it to be today.
In 1958 the hotel and restaurant industry within the country was manufactured from a few singular establishments here and there. It wasn’t until the early 1960s that the real hospitality boom started to hit, thanks to international brand hotels such as Hilton and Sheraton and bold Maltese entrepreneurs such as Alfred Pisani and Moses Fenech, that began sowing their seed in the Maltese soil. None of this would have been possible without the vision of one man who saw the need to create an association where hotels and restaurants in Malta could work in unison for the sake of the hospitality sector. By creating the organisation, Jean Cauchi, the founder of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, paved the way to a new standard that was to take the Maltese tourism industry by storm.
The first decade of the MHRA was directed under the solid hands of the founder himself; he was a zealous worker whose determination and grit created what is considered to be the foundation on which most of the MHRA’s current beliefs and values developed from. The MHRA was not the only project in mind for Mr. Cauchi, as he was also a member of the Board of Governors of MCAST and the precursor of ITS, ensuring that our youth were successfully educated within the increasingly growing hospitality trade.
No man is an island, and the success of the MHRA did not solely depend on one man.
Mr. Cauchi, together with a council of diligent members, as well as an earnest secretary general, Dr. Edgar Mizzi, had to overcome a series of trying waters throughout the first few years. The council of the time was made up of entrepreneurs and establishment owners themselves, including people like Joe Zarb Mizzi, Walter Zammit Tabona and Miss Mabel Strickland, the representative for the Xara Palace Hotel.
This was new territory, not only for the people involved in the industry but for the government and the authorities as well. Procedures that would safeguard the seamless operational flow of hotels and restaurants throughout the whole year had to be established, and it was thanks to negotiations between authorities and the MHRA that such policies came into place.
In 1967, the presidency was taken over by Dr. Joe Galea Debono. By this time, the MHRA’s major focus was to see what was wrong within the industry and strive towards making it right; however, they had yet to discover what lay ahead on their horizon. In 1969, all the employees of the major hotels went on strike, creaking a huge battle on the tourism front. It took a huge number of protracted negotiations with the General Workers’ Union to get employees to return to their place of work.
It is in such trials that the true worth of an organisation of the sort starts coming into the clear.
Throughout the duration of these testing events, the MHRA was there to assist hotels, who together with their own legal advisers, were trying to resolve this impasse by reaching a collective agreement with the GWU. During the strike, the MHRA was constantly active by advising its members on all aspects regarding the various agreements that needed to be reached.
Another milestone of the decade sees the MHRA formulating a contract of acceptance between hotels and tour operators during a time where the latter called most of the shots. Work flow became easier and more transparent, and when operators strayed away from reached agreements, the MHRA was there to fall back hard on them and make sure they stayed in line. During such times, the hotels could clearly recognise how effective it was to be grouped and to respond in unified ways.
Hotels and restaurants have been the major focus of the MHRA throughout its ongoing journey. Given that they are the back bone of the tourism industry, the association has been one of the most vocal and important bodies to keep Malta’s tourism alive, as well as substantially contribute to the island’s economy. The vision that Jean Cauchi, the first president of MHRA, held is still relevant up to this very day; the aim to see Malta advance and excel in the touristic sector is perhaps now even stronger than it has ever been before.