CC CASE STUDY
“One simply cannot become complacent and must always be a step ahead.”
visit for longer than one day, primarily made up of Sicilians on business trips or holidays, but also including other markets which Mr Saliba says have been on the increase. “Apart from Italians coming to Malta, we also have an interesting market which has been growing since the beginning – the two-point holidays. Here, we work with major operators selling Northern Europe and Italy – and target tourists who are interested to travel down to Sicily and extend to Malta for a night or two or three. This is an interesting option, particularly for long-haul incoming tourists coming from countries like the US and Japan.” The same also works vice-versa from Malta to Sicily, with passengers ranging from Maltese day-trippers to tourists staying in Malta, for both day trips and two-point holidays. The Maltese market appears to be particularly on the increase, and Mr Saliba attributes this to a number of reasons. “Years ago, it was mainly to shop – Malta was not yet in the EU, and perhaps the variety of goods available in Malta was less than it is today. But while nowadays the Maltese still go to shop, things have changed. Now you have families going up by car to explore the countryside and agritourism market in Sicily, the uncrowded beaches, and in winter we have, for the first time, Maltese people going up in their own cars to ski, which was unheard of, until now. The Maltese are also becoming more adventurous – more are driving abroad, and because it’s so close, they feel at home,” he says. Nowadays, Virtu Ferries carries over 300,000 passengers and 60,000 vehicles APRIL / MAY 2017
more or less down the middle between personal and commercial travellers. When it comes to cargo, Virtu has revolutionised the way Maltese businesses import their goods, owing primarily to the frequency and the fast service. “Our clients import everything from fresh produce and meats to construction materials, metals, gypsum and clothes, and vary from wholesalers and distributors to importers. The Italians are now seeing Malta as an extension of their market, and it pays them to give the Maltese good conditions,” Mr Saliba explains, maintaining that nowadays, through Virtu’s service, it is as if Maltese businesses are crossing to an extension of the same country. “Malta is being seen as part of mainland Europe, apart from an hour-and-ahalf crossing. Getting to Malta from Pozzallo, for an Italian wholesaler, let’s say from Ragusa, is closer than getting to Palermo.” Meanwhile, apart from its Malta-Sicily route, Virtu also operates in Venice, Croatia and Slovenia under Venezia Lines. Over the last 12 years, Mr Saliba maintains, Venezia Lines has been operating between May and October with two passenger vessels, selling excursions to Venice to tourists in Croatia. “We also sell one-ways and two-point holidays between the two, much the same as we do in Malta and Sicily. We touch five ports in Croatia with two vessels which operate daily services,” he continues. And as the company has achieved steady growth over the years, plans for future growth are already underway. “We believe that you can’t afford to slow down. We strive to maintain our level of service, both for our passengers and cargo clients,” Mr Saliba maintains. “The vessels we operate are stateof-the-art, modern vessels that are very fast and comfortable, efficiency and speed come at a cost to finance and operate, but our clients appreciate that and demand the level of service we offer.”
“What we’ve done in the past is invest in the line and in our client, and our aim now is to expand,” he continues, affirming that the company has just signed the purchase of a new vessel – which will have a larger garage capacity than the La Valette, taking up to six more trailers. “The vessel will be delivered to us in approximately 18 months’ time, and the idea is to continue on the same principle, but to expand the routes and the flexibility,” Mr Saliba explains, asserting that once the new vessel arrives, it will be placed on the MaltaPozzallo run together with the La Valette. “The options are various and we’re keeping them open – touching more ports; basing one in Sicily and one in Malta, and giving better departure times; and criss-cross the voyages,” he adds. Finally, Virtu’s future plans also centre on the company’s terminal and business centre. In the coming months, the company will be organising exhibitions at the terminal, aimed at Sicilian companies that want to exhibit their products in Malta. “We are doing the same thing we do with our passengers – exposing the Maltese market to them and creating business and import/export between Malta and Sicily,” Mr Saliba maintains. Looking towards the future, both in terms of the new vessel and business centre, the Managing Director attests that Virtu will continue to do things as it has always done, improving incrementally and never accepting half measures. “Nowadays, we speak about innovation, which is important, but I don’t operate with a frame of mind of shock innovation. Instead, we apply small frequent changes. I probably tweak or change something every day. ‘We keep our focus on our clients and ensure we offer value for money together with a high level of service.’ That is how we’ve arrived at this point. I believe that small and continuous improvements lead to steady achievements.” cc
“What we’ve done in the past is invest in the line and in our client, and our aim now is to expand.”
The Official Business magazine of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry since 1947.