It is so often that we only get to reflect, or grasp, just one part of a bigger picture.
This was the case recently, with the unfortunate and untimely collapse of our staunch icon at Dwejra, the gentle giant, the Azure Window. People suddenly and perhaps somewhat surprisingly, realised the impact that this site had on tourism and how many countries also took to the media to mention that Gozo’s monument, was gone.
For those of us in the travel business, we were perhaps more quietly accepting of this event because we have had to work around many other disappearances during these past couple of years.
Let us start, for example, at the airport. Currently the airport is under re-modernisation but the fact remains that as clients emerge onto Maltese soil, the first thing they see are boards apologising for the inconvenience and we have been told to bring clients early to the airport due to the delays which may be incurred. Never mind, people are still looking forward to their holiday at this time and take it in their stride.
But then they get to the hotel and see that just adjacent to it or across the street from it, there is a grand excavation taking place and two or three cranes and heavy vehicles nearby. Patience. Malta is a developing country? Perhaps that’s it.
As we distract our clients from the external chaos, we present the island and the option of touring the sites. Let us now see how this part stands.
Valletta, the main attraction, European City of Culture in 2018, host of the EU Presidency for half of 2017 and heralding a new Parliament built by the renowned architect, Renzo Piano.
But be careful as you enter Valletta. The Triton fountain is no more, the familiar kiosks with their warm pastizzi are gone and forget trying to buy a packet of cigarettes. The buses are king of city gate and the bulldozers come second. Patience again.
Once in the city, many tourists would like to visit the State Rooms or at least the Armoury at the Grandmaster’s Palace. Sorry, not possible. Potluck if you find the Armoury open or not.
At least we have the new Fort St Elmo but some people are limited for time and energy and do not always find it easy to reach the Fort. This project was also a carry-over from the PN government.
Moving on, we may want to propose the Hypogeum of Ħal-Saflieni - a Neolithic subterranean structure dating to 3300-3000 BC in Maltese prehistory, located in Paola, Malta. Pity, no. This site is closed for structural works. Let’s settle for the Tarxien Temples instead.
Once in the area of Tarxien, a visit to the nearby fishing village of Marsaxlokk would be nice. Sure. Only now you may be forgiven for thinking you are at Cape Canaveral in Florida, uncertain if the luzzu’s are the backdrop to the giant power station and tanker or whether the strand is in a funny sort of place. Let us also not begin to imagine the risk of danger that this location presents. Apparently it is within an acceptable limit to loss of life. Besides the questionable view, here, plans are in the pipeline to reconfigure the waterfront. We shall see.
Back at the hotel in Bugibba or Qawra, maybe even along the Sliema promenade, one wonders what that band of white slimy foam is on the surface, stretching from one point to another.
Just as all those news outlets announced the demise of the Azure Window, they may latch onto the sea slime and before we know it, we have negative publicity all over the place. A less friendly neighbouring destination may want to inflict some damage on our tourism industry and come up with some programme on TV highlighting our plague on the sea. That would be a pity but unless we wake up and begin to take care of our sea, we are asking for trouble.
Going to the beaches has also become a major challenge. Besides the long and uncertain bus journeys, finding a spot on which to lay your towel, protect your possessions and get some good sunshine on your face, is rather a lottery. Where can we recommend anymore to sun-loving tourists – at least where they do not have to spend an arm and a leg to get into the water? One after the other our beaches have been commercialised and spaces become fewer and fewer. Even the solitary artificial sandy beach at Bugibba is on the block, as the hotel there has set its sight on linking it up to the hotel with an underground passage. But, we ask, if hotels, situated right on the sandy beach, prefer to keep their guests by the pool where they spend money, and the beach itself is deemed too crowded or unsafe to use, do we need to usurp also the little beach at Bugibba for 4 star hotel clients? Can we not just leave one little area for students and other guests in self-catering apartments and indeed, locals who spend their Summer at this resort?
So, another option may be to leave the shores of Malta and go over to the Blue Lagoon in Comino. Shock and awe. This place looks like a refugee camp. Babylon. They will soon start food drops from the sky to cater to the hungry crowds. Get ready to be fleeced on your deck chair and umbrella. Try hard and you will see a patch of the famous translucent blue water. So, when this area is polluted and turns off tourists with the boats berthed side-by-side like a row of dried up sausages and you realise you have spent a fortune for nearly nothing, let us then mourn the demise of the Blue Lagoon, as we did the Azure Window.
All this assumes that the tourist was able to find accommodation in the first place. With major hotels shut down for construction work of adding more floors or completely gutted to be re-built, we are currently doing without a chunk of beds, pushing prices up and causing heavy use of the same product leaving no time for maintenance.
Finding flights was probably not a problem, but didn’t Malta have its own airline once upon a time? No longer flying from Frankfurt or Manchester or…
So, inspite of the record numbers, we are told arrive annually to our Mediterranean island, not all is well. After the numerous attractions and infrastructural improvements that were added to the product Malta and Gozo by the previous Government, this one seems to be doing a subtraction. The most significant of which is the environment itself, whether urban, country or marine. We do not need crocodile tears for the Azure Window. What is needed now is a serious inventory of all the product including beds, museums, attractions, natural sites, beaches and an appreciation of the legacy that this current administration found on taking office four years ago, compared to its current state. This country’s tourism cannot function on adrenalin alone.