Board Of Directors
- Silvio Debono – Chairman
- Robert Debono – Chief Executive Ofﬁcer
- Arthur Gauci – Director
- Victoria Debono – Director
- Alan Debono – Director
- David Debono – Director
- Jesmond Vella – Director
- Ray Bezzina – Director
When the invisibility of the COVID-19 virus hit the planet in 2019 and visibly changed, well, everything, some private enterprises were stunned into commercial paralysis. Others kept frantically shifting gears hoping to hit the right one, and yet others expected their challenges to be addressed by others or left them in the hands of fate.
Not us. We took a step back and went about things differently. We knew that it was once again time for us to do what we do best – veer off the beaten path in search of how best to flip a challenge into an opportunity.
In 2019 we sculpted a vision for the long haul. We wanted it to capture in real time the full force of the challenges posed by the pandemic and to approach them with a sense of judgment, calm yet courageous.
So which path did we choose? Our starting point was that the day when the pandemic would run its course had to come sooner or later. Our job was to prepare for its dawn. We wanted to be on our marks, set and ready to go when it did.
To follow this path, we had to take a gamble few were prepared to take. As the virus essentially shut down the tourism sector, others chose to shed their staff, minimise costs and refrain from taking risks, particularly with new ventures.
We marched to the beat of a completely different drummer. Since 2019 we opted to grow rather than retrench, took new initiatives and risks, and explored new market angles.
In financial terms, this path meant that as revenues dwindled due to the pandemic, our investments did not abate, and in some cases even grew. Normally, such a scenario is to be avoided and could have been ruinous.
Yet we thought differently. Having full faith in this country’s attraction as a destination, in its resilience and the resourcefulness of its people, we forged ahead and took risks to prepare to be ready for normality and better days.
Consequently, at the peak of the pandemic, including during the current financial year, we inaugurated new restaurants, planned others and opened more franchised outlets. In addition, we embarked on a range of other initiatives intended to bear fruit in the future.
With all this experience behind us, we do not plan to change tack. Looking forward, we will not allow the negative effect of the wars on our sector to weaken our resolve to invest in our country.
Clearly, we keep choosing this difficult path because we could in the past and we can today. The Group’s financials were and remain rock solid as this report attests. It is on these foundations that we are able to strike out on our very own path once again.
Recovery through growth.
Recovery was bound to come sooner or later and so we did not leave our approach to it to chance. From the pandemic’s inception, we had put our shoulders to the grindstone, made substantial financial sacrifices and took high risks to be able to move forward swiftly from the get-go to recovery. Happily, our approach worked, and we did not have to manage recovery on the hoof.
We got to this point by standing our ground on the db Group’s fundamentals. For starters, we continued to believe that our people are our strength. When the entire tourism sector was practically shut down, we retained all our staff, regardless of the considerable cost. We bit this bullet for two full years in order to be up and running when the sector opened up again.
Being loyal to our people delivered its reward. Although an unknown quantity at the time, this move smartly anticipated the human resources issues which today are plaguing the industry. We have also experienced our fair share of this new phenomena but the fact that all staff who decided to stay with us through thick and thin were retained, helped us achieve a swift recovery from an operational standpoint post pandemic.
Putting this key point in chronological perspective, April to June 2021 were recovery months for the entire tourism sector. Hotel occupancy increased significantly as Malta started to open to tourists, hitting in excess of 60% in July, almost 90% in August and exceeding 90% in September. Invariably, subsequent seasonality and pandemic spikes brought these figures down.
The strategy of staff retention has been a determining factor in being able to operate our hotels, having over 950 rooms, and running them at 90% occupancy. In parallel, AARRs hit the €116 mark, compared to around €128 pre-COVID times. This represents a manageable decrease of 10% in room rates, which all things put into perspective, was a better result than our basis of estimates coming out of the pandemic.
Widening the financial palette, total EBITDA for the financial year ending 31st March 2022 amounted to €20m when compared to €25.6m achieved during the 2019 financial year (excluding the healthcare division).
Tellingly, while most economists predicted that companies would achieve 50% of their pre-COVID EBITDA, we managed a commendable 78% level of pre-COVID EBITDA. Concurrently, the price of our bond remained strong throughout the year, fluctuating between €103 to €99 between April and November 2021. Share of profits from healthcare increased substantially from €2.2m last year to €4.5m this year.
Factoring in the substantial increase in profits from the entertainment side of business fuelled part of the profit recovery plan. The positive financial performance generated by AKI – which made it to the Michelin Guide – and the opening of an additional four Starbucks outlets all helped in the overall recovery plan.
Indeed, overall restaurant revenues overtook pre-COVID numbers.
Be bold when the going is tough and challenging. True to this statement, the Group continued with its planned growth and investment during the tumultuous times of the pandemic. Some may have hedged their bets and became risk averse – we forged ahead and invested in new ventures, restaurants and franchise outlets.
It is not the first time we’re taking this road. During the global financial crisis, which hit the world economy during 2008 and 2009, we invested large amounts to build hotel extensions and undertook refurbishment programs of the Group’s mainstream properties, the db Seabank Resort & Spa and the db San Antonio Hotel.
The third pillar in our strategic goals is the creation of opportunities. I use the word ‘creation’ rather than ‘taking’ because it makes all the difference. Maybe for some, the time of the pandemic translated only into challenges. We viewed this time as a new era for untapped opportunities. Choosing creatively in a judicious and determined mindset, we took the plunge and ventured beyond our comfort zone, taking on board new initiatives. Clearly, this road led to our go-to financial destination.
The future beckons. Although it is evident that we are still not out of the woods yet, we remain confident of continuing on the solid road of recovery with a positive trajectory in our key numbers pushing us to new heights.
One word which captures the essence of success in our business.
One word which always reminds us of how we got here.
One word which has guided us for three decades.
One word which inspires all our new ventures.
One word which distinguishes us from others.
One word which explains our staying power.
One word which deﬁnes who we are.
One word which is our future.
“We are what we repeatedly do.
Excellence, then, is not an act,
but a habit.”
2020 starts with db Group opening another restaurant, managed by SRGN LTD, this time in the heart of the capital city Valletta, called Aki.
Aki is a contemporary Japanese restaurant and lounge bar bringing a unique experience with signature Japanese-inspired dishes prepared with care and with flavours to satisfy modern palates and contemporary styles. The sophisticated décor offers the perfect setting to unwind and kick off the evening while sipping on one of the signature cocktails from the extensive drinks menu.
The company invests and curates a space on Perched Beach in St. Paul’s Bay, called Nine Lives which is a Lido and Mediterranean restaurant during the day and in the evening the unmissable sunset transforms the location into a sophisticated lounge bar and restaurant with ample space for private events.
The company has announced it will enter into a licensed partnership to open the first Starbucks store in Malta. Starting in 2019, db Group will gradually open Starbucks stores at select locations around the islands, bringing the Starbucks Experience to locals and visitors.
The previously well-known Tunny Net Complex, sitting directly at the water’s edge, overlooking Malta’s largest and unique sandy beach (Ghadira Bay in Mellieha), was renovated and rebranded as Adeera Complex. A capital investment of over €3.5 million was injected by the Group and the works spanned over a 4-month period. The complex houses 3 restaurants;
Amami – a redefined concept of Japanese and Asian haute cuisine,
Westreme – the perfect family restaurant
Blu Beach lido – offering a unique dining and relaxation experience and ambiance.
The complex also houses a convenience store to service tourists.
The Group signs a contract to build the db City Centre project in St George’s Bay, Paceville with an investment of €300m.
The Group expands its healthcare service offering to include domiciliary care for the elderly.
Completion of a block of luxury apartments in Mellieha Bay.
The Group acquires land to develop a 300-bed home for the elderly in Santa Lucija, and a historical building in Mtarfa, earmarked to be converted into a 150-bed residence for the elderly dementia patients. The Group also takes over the former MMDNA operation, significantly increasing its service offering.
The Group fully refurbishes the Hard Rock Bar at the Malta International Airport.
With an investment of €33m, the db San Antonio Hotel + Spa is refurbished and turned into a 500-room all-inclusive hotel. The Group launches the db brand, its chain of hotels and resorts.
The Group acquires the two largest healthcare companies in Malta and sets up Healthmark Care Services Limited to supply healthcare workers to public hospitals and clinics and provide home care and support services.
Complete refurbishment of Tunny Net Complex.
A land reclamation proposal is submitted to the Maltese Government.
The Group acquires 100% ownership of the db San Antonio Hotel + Spa.
Kika Construction Limited completes the extension of the db Seabank Resort + Spa in a record 8 month timeframe.
With an investment of over €40m, the db Seabank Resort + Spa is converted into a 540-room all-inclusive hotel operation.
A block of upmarket apartments in St. Paul’s Bay is completed.
Through its partnership in Malta Healthcare Caterers Limited, the Group enters the contract catering market supplying meals to Malta’s public sector hospitals.
As part of its partnership in Sky Gourmet Malta Limited, the Group wins the in-flight catering contract of Air Malta, the country’s national airline.
The third Hard Rock Café outlet is opened at the Valletta Waterfront.
Seabank Resort + Spa undergoes a major refurbishment programme.
Following extensive renovations and an investment of €28 million, the 300-room San Antonio Hotel + Spa inaugurated.
The first airport Hard Rock Bar in the world is opened at the Malta International Airport.
Seabank Resort + Spa is expanded further and the number of rooms is increased to 251.
The Group acquires 50% of the db San Antonio Hotel + Spa.
The Group obtains the prestigious Hard Rock Café franchise and opens the first Hard Rock Café outlet in St. Julian’s.
25 new hotel rooms are added to the Porto Azzurro Complex.
Major structural modifications and refurbishment are carried out at the Seabank Hotel with the number of rooms is doubled to reach 160.
The Tunny Net Complex is demolished and reconstructed as a complex including a restaurant, pub, club, beach lido and water sports facilities.
Group acquires a third of the Porto Azzurro Complex, an 80-room aparthotel which was refurbished and opened a year later.
The Group acquires the Tunny Net Complex on the water’s edge, some 200 metres away from the db Seabank Resort + Spa.
The Mellieha guest house is converted into an 80-room hotel and inaugurated as the Seabank Hotel.
Kika Construction Limited is set up to oversee the construction of the Seabank Hotel.
Silvio Debono buys a guest house in Mellieha, expanding and embellishing it in subsequent years.