The COVID pandemic will likely prove to be a generation-defining event – changing the ways we interact, and the things we prioritise in our lives.
Aside from the cultural and social impacts though, it has also had a profound economic impact, decimating some sectors while providing the ideal conditions for others to thrive.
This – and the way forward from here – was the topic of discussion at a webinar hosted on Thursday by Grant Thornton Malta, as part of its Shaping Malta’s Future conference, titled ‘Malta and the great reset: sectors and skills that will drive growth.’
Daniel Gravino / Image: Grant Thornton
First of all, it was acknowledged by host Daniel Gravino, a Lecturer in Economics at the University of Malta, that businesses and business people are now, as the COVID pandemic seems to be receding, having to take stock of the economy.
As they do this, they are required to rethink the way they do business, he said.
Weighing in, Gordon Cordina, Chair of the Bank of Valletta Board of Directors explained that during the pandemic there had been many people forced into “consumption” without “productivity,” as their workplaces closed, but as due to state support often, they could still receive a salary.
Gordon Cordina. Image: BOV
Aside from this, the pandemic has seen something of a forced adoption of “green and digital business methods,” he observed, while warning that workers and systems are now turning back to more traditional systems because they want to return to the old way of doing things – at least partly out of an association with the pandemic.
“Had there not been COVID, perhaps we’d have switched to new green and digital methods in a more organic, more healthy manner,” Dr Cordina concluded.
Turning to David Curmi, Executive Chairperson at Air Malta, representing the battered aviation industry, Dr Gravino asked how, especially considering some were struggling pre-pandemic, airlines, and the wider sector could surmount the challenges facing them.
“It’s very difficult to express just how badly the aviation industry has been impacted,” explained Mr Curmi, pointing to estimations that the industry has been pushed 20 years back in terms of revenue.
One of the things hurting airlines is their inability to plan ahead, which is especially disruptive to airline operations. Buying aircraft and scheduling routes are challenging.
Looking to the future, Mr Curmi predicted that travel is going to get more expensive than it was, and get less comfortable and less enjoyable because the COVID-related health requirement for international travel will persist.
Christos Barberis, Managing Director of Camilleri Holdings was asked to discuss some economic factors outside of the direct effects of COVID.
“We have to account for both permanent events, such as Brexit, and non-current crises, such as the oil crises,” he explained.
The pandemic has had a broad and impactful impact on consumer behaviours and habits, and companies in Malta’s retail sector are facing a particular challenge compared to some of their international competitors, according to Mr Barberis.
This is because, where foreign businesses, especially in Europe and North America, are able to rollout successful online offerings, the market in Malta is too small for this.
Geoffrey Debono, CEO of Debono Group, also provided insights, explaining that for Malta’s automobile industry, the biggest challenges are now related to supply chain issues, with factories either shut down or struggling to meet supply.
The pandemic has also precipitated shifts in attitudes in this area, and he has found that some people are thinking of selling their cars and using mobility services instead.
“The world has changed and I think it has changed forever,” he concluded.