Times of Malta, 31st January 2008, by Vanessa Macdonald– From wine launches at Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna’s headquarters in Zabbar to sponsored art exhibitions at the Museum of Archaeology, there are more ways than ever for companies to support heritage sites.

Over the past years, a number of sites have been entrusted to non-governmental organisations who can hire them out for corporate events: the growing outside catering market has helped a great deal as it is now much easier to get mobile kitchens and mobile toilets, opening up the way for venues that do not have their own facilities.

Still the rental generates important revenue for the organisation as well as ensuring the upkeep of the sites themselves. Direct sponsorship by companies is ideal when capital expenditure is required for restoration, but NGOs like being self-sufficient.

Mario Farrugia, the chairman and chief executive officer said that sponsorship, although always welcome, only represented a small portion of what was required. “Hence, a varied yet sympathetic use to be found for them which makes them earn their own in terms of maintenance. The holding of corporate events at such sites has become a staple of heritage funding the world over. However een this is not enough to keep heritage sites viable, especially with the rising cost of labour.”

Pierre Cassar of Heritage Malta stressed that direct sponsorship was vital for Heritage Malta to be able to continue with its plans to upgrade museums and sites. “Companies such as HSBC, Bank of Valletta, Vodafone Foundation Malta and GasanMamo Insurance have been at the forefront in supporting the national agency to upgrade museums and sites. The HSBC Cares for Heritage Fund deserves a single mention as it has helped generate funds which are being earmarked for specific projects at Heritage Malta sites and museums. Selected four and five-star hotels are running a scheme through which hotel residents are voluntarily asked whether they would like to donate 1 euro per room night to Heritage Malta. The response so far has been extremely encouraging,” he said.

But he too said that rental of venues was very important. “Money generated through the rental of venues for corporate events is only a fraction of the budget that Heritage Malta needs to continue to upgrade its sites and museums within its remit. Still it is an important source of revenue that has only been exploited since Heritage Malta was set up in 2003.”

Heritage sites are an important part of the Malta product, particularly for conference and incentive travel. Joe Diacono, the managing director of Best of Malta, said that Malta’s concentration of heritage sites in such a small area made it unique. “Clients are always in search of that venue which makes the event an unforgettable occasion. They try to avoid venues that their delegates might go to should they return to Malta on a private holiday and hence seek out heritage sites and other unusual sites like film sets, disused bastions, piers and harbour docks, for example,” he explained.

Mr Diacono said Heritage Malta is a lot more enthusiastic about using its sites than it used to be. Unfortunately, sites that fall under other government entitities like local councils or even private enterprises, are not so easy to come by. “Here one literally has to research and go through all sorts of red tape to get the necessary permits, sometimes at exorbitant prices which does anything but encourage clients. These entities sometimes fail to understand that we live in a competitive world. Other destinations in this market long ago saw the potential of offering these type of sites and literally open all their doors without any red tape whatsoever. “We are still a long way off from this one-stop-shop attitude although there has been ample improvement, for example at Heritage Malta,” he said. “It would be a great help to have a list of these venues, with contact details of persons responsible. This would probably also serve the film industry who are also consistently on the lookout for unique venues.”

Din l-Art Helwa also holds properties in trust or on lease, loan, management agreement or other legal terms to ensure the conservation of the property. “DLH’s corporate sponsors and other groups have frequently enjoyed team-building activities, re-enactments and other events at the properties restored and managed by DLH, while respecting the historic importance of the sites,” Petra Bianchi of DLH said. Properties such as the Red Tower, Torri Mamo and Comino Tower can be used for corporate events such as dinners or parties. But Ms Bianchi stressed that companies also get involved out of a sense of social responsibility.

“For example, in May 2007 PricewaterhouseCoopers members of staff spent a day in Comino carrying out a clean-up and tree-planting activity, and PwC staff members subsequently helped DLH volunteers to open the Santa Marija Tower in Comino to visitors throughout the summer. Many companies have also held tree-planting activities at the Foresta 2000 afforestation site in Mellieha, which is managed jointly by DLH, Birdlife Malta, and the PARC department at the Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment.”

It is not only companies that seek these sites: they are also made available to other NGOs. The Caravaggio Foundation, for example, has used Caraffa Stores n Vittoriosa among other sites. “The owners were very forthcoming and we got full use of the venue at no charge,” foundation member Karl Diacono said. However, most NGOs would prefer to have sites of their own. “We have been working for months now trying to find a site for the foundation and, more importantly, to set up an international centre for Caravaggio Studies to intrinsically link the artist to Malta. This is proving more difficult than anticipated. “While the idea is liked by all, finding financial support is another story.”