The Malta Independent 5 August 2021, Thursday

Traffic lights – Managing tourism professionally

Sunday, 13 June 2021, 08:38 Last update: about 3 months ago

This week I will discuss the issue of managing our strategy for effectiveness (not simply as an efficient publication that is filled with futile wish lists). If we want to regenerate tourism again once it is safe and responsible to do so, then we need to have persons who can manage tourism not just mechanically but professionally; we need people who can look at innovation not in the shapeless forms of abstract buildings but in the character and culture of the place or destination itself; we need people who can really breathe life into tourism as a sustainable and responsible socio-cultural activity instead of the mediocre quantitative mass industry we have so carelessly built over the years.

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The UK has created a traffic light system to determine safe and responsible destinations in a post-pandemic period. We are surprised that we never made it past the amber stage. Why should we be surprised? We should look at our faults, we need to implement the three Rs of tourism that I first mooted in 2020 – Reflect, Redevelop and Restore (the three Rs that the MTA very carefully reused in the strategy for tourism 2021- 2030). Each of these stages shows that we should build a sense of commitment, trust and synergy between all key stakeholders (the authorities, the businesses and the local community); we should not think in numbers to fill our existing beds and reach our senseless records for tourism for the last few years; we have to plan an activity that will attract that tourist who wants to be here instead of the one who happens to be here.

As a researcher, academic and consultant my primary purpose is not to promote the tourism we were used to up to 2020 but to create an alternative tourism, one that I have been working on with the University of Malta and the Malta Tourism Society for the past 10 years, one that actually started as an idea to add value to the visitor experience during my appointment as director Tourism.

If we want to be considered a safe and responsible destination we have to manage tourism, this will not happen if we politicise tourism or try to sweet talk foreign governments (like the UK government and European governments); but it will happen if we all work together to achieve an activity that reflects the real destination.

From this week I will be concluding my articles with practical and useful recommendations on how we can make this a better destination. As a start I will be discussing San Anton Gardens in Attard.

 

Recommendations for a better Visitor Experience – Part 1

San Anton Gardens

From this week I will be including a few recommendations how we can add value to the visitor experience and start to cure the venom of construction and destruction that has taken over these islands in recent years.

In Attard there is a garden that dates back to the 16th and 17th century and which, up to 60 or 70 years ago was one of the key attractions for visitors to the islands. Unfortunately, over the past few years it has fallen into disrepair with uneven paving slabs, benches that are broken and a lack of interpretation and visitor centre.

1. My recommendation here is that we create pathways that are elevated, allowing the roots of the old trees to pass freely under them;

2. Paths should be paved with the traditional Maltese stone (cangatura);

3. We should house a visitor interpretation site for the gardens (including a gift shop selling saplings and guide books to the various plants and monuments there). This centre could be housed in the old “zoo” area, which today is no longer an ethical manner to display living creatures;

4. We could include an old kiosk (there is a sound example of one that is no longer in use in the Pieta Gardens) with three or four round tables and chairs (typical of the style found around such kiosks in pre-war years – no plastic or modern kitsch please!);

5. San Anton Gardens is the ideal place for cultural and social events such as craft fairs, melitensia fairs, plays and music concerts. There needs to be a good programme set out and curated professionally.

If we learn to improve and manage such an attraction then we could start to attract a better quality of visitor who wants to be here.

 

My next article will include the Management and Visitor Interpretation of the walled town of Mdina.

 

Dr Julian Zarb is a researcher, local tourism planning consultant and a visiting senior lecturer at the University of Malta. He has also been appointed as an expert for the High Streets Task Force in the UK. His main area of research is community-based tourism and local tourism planning using the integrated approach

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