Insight

Turning Malta into a Logistics Hub

Philip Attard of Attrans believes in Malta’s potential as a European logistics hub and sees a bright future for the transport sector due to increased eCommerce business.

Attrans is one of the longest established Maltese international transport companies. In 2009, the company decided to open its first foreign subsidiary in the Netherlands in order to cater for the growing transport demands of Europe. Since then, two more offices have been opened: Attrans Italia in Genoa, Italy, and Attrans North Africa, located in Hazeldonk, on the Dutch border. Managing Director Philip Attard talks to MaltaProfile and shares his views on opportunities and challenges in the international transport sector.

Could you give us a brief overview of Attrans, its core business segments, services and key markets?

Attrans was founded in 1976 as one of the very first transport companies in Malta. Over the years, we have grown into an international recognised company, offering our range of tailored services all over the world. Although Attrans mainly operates out of Malta, our four subsidiary offices each offer office space, workshops and warehouses. Attrans specialises in both groupage and full load movements tailored to our clients’ needs. Whether its normal road cargo, hazardous or refrigerated freight, our network of European consolidation hubs is able to deliver the shipment to anywhere in the world, including the USA, Middle East and Asia, on a weekly basis.

What sections of your business do you see delivering the greatest innovation and growth potential?

Our largest potential is in the refrigerated business. We currently have a temperature-controlled fleet of about 45-50 trailers, and plan to increase our refrigerated depot network overseas. Recently, we acquired 13 new reefer trailers, which boast very environmentally friendly qualities. These state-of-the-art reefer trailers have allowed us to improve and expand on the pharmaceutical and food industry. Furthermore, we pride ourselves in being the only transport company whose trailers are built specifically in our workshops to meet the needs of each individual customer, by varying internal heights and fittings. Modifications like this are made purely for the commodity of our clients. Our company is continually investing to be a step ahead of our competitors, while offering our clientele the best transport solutions 

In terms of evolution, what major developments have influenced the international transport sector over the last 5-10 years?

The biggest influence on transport locally was Malta membership of the European Union. In order to compete against the National American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), EU trade barriers were removed, and the EU implemented the free carriage of goods over national borders. European transport companies, and by extension, clients are now able to receive their items much easier and much quicker. 

What new trends and patterns do you see emerging in the transport sector that could attract more business?

Today, technology is a needed asset in any market. In transport, it is no different. We are constantly investing in and upgrading IT components, which we use on our vehicles in order to enable us to be more competitive. Recently, the developments in apparel technology, and how clients have turned to mobile and vide to assist them in their decision, has led to a number of changes in organisations. For instance, huge amounts of indirect costs resulting from travel have been reduced with modern communication technologies enabling quick and direct access to any individual or company.

What key challenges is the industry facing at the moment?

The Valletta Grand Harbour currently suffers from a number of bottlenecks such as old practices, lack of discipline and procedures, gate limitations and lack of quay space to organise professional cargo operations. Further to that, the port and all associated costs are quite high, for example port charges in Malta are double than those in Spain.

What benefits does Malta offer international transport or logistics companies, and what are your expectations for Malta and your industry in the coming years?

Malta has the third largest transhipment port in the Mediterranean and an unrivalled geographic position. This allows Malta to act as a bridge between the EU and North Africa, making it the most compelling candidate for a European distribution hub. Over the past 10 years, the number of cargo vessels calling in Malta has declined, while the amount of TEUs (twenty-foot equivalent units) handled has doubled during that time, partly due to larger vessels entering the port. The government would do well in investing more and developing Malta as a true transhipment hub, especially since a very sizeable amount of trailers still leave Malta empty.

I am of the opinion that eCommerce will play a very large role in transport in the years to come. Some of the market’s most popular and prominent transporters have already begun to shift to a web-based booking platform. Another topic we are sure to keep our eyes on is the strength or demise of any foreign currency. The sterling in particular has a pivotal factor on our rates and business.  

When Philip Attard Senior founded Attrans in 1976, he was one of the first Maltese who transformed overland driving into a commercial activity. He started off as a sole trader, importing machinery and vehicles from the United Kingdom, driving them to the South of Italy and shipping them on the only ‘ro-ro’ service available at that time. After a few of these trips, other local importers began to approach him, primarily to move their cargo from North Italy and the United Kingdom to Malta. Attrans, now in its second generation, has established itself as a fully-fledged international transport operator, with a diverse and multicultural workforce based in Malta as well as overseas.

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