The Malta Independent 24 January 2022, Monday

TMID Editorial: Tourism and the elephant in the room

Saturday, 4 December 2021, 07:43 Last update: about 3 months ago

It was on Thursday that Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo announced another government strategy: this time one for the tourism industry between 2021 and 2030.

Bartolo described the strategy’s 22 objectives, goals and actions as “ambitious” due to the ever-changing situation the pandemic places the world into. Eleven of these strategies include sustainable development goals, he said.

The strategy’s objectives indeed are quite wide-reaching, and include several interesting and good points about how to brand Malta for tourists, specifically targeting tourists from different nations, and how to set out Gozo as a distinct tourism destination.

However, the strategy fails to take into account one key element: that Malta has lost much of the charm that it, and its tourism product, was known for.

Let’s face it: Malta is essentially a whole permanent construction site.  Look anywhere, and you will see cranes disturbing the view or heavy machinery blocking the roads; you will see buildings being pulled down, and characterless concrete apartment blocks being built up instead; you will be faced with the noise of endless works; and you will be faced with its pollution as well.

This is particular for areas which are frequented by tourists.  All the billboards and brochures (and that Tourism Ministry’s own strategy document, incidentally) use beautiful pictures of Valletta or Mdina to promote the island – but the reality when tourists come and stay in places like Sliema, St. Julian’s or St. Paul’s Bay is markedly different.

The same strategy on tourism shows that 51.4% of tourists went to Sliema, 46.8% went to St. Paul’s Bay, and 37.9% went to St. Julian’s.  One shudders to think about what opinion they emerged with.

One must also keep in mind the notion that the tourism industry is now verging on the point of saturation. So many hotels – some of which being as damaging to Malta’s vistas as a block of apartments – offering the same mediocre service as the next have popped up, which has now created the need for a tourism industry based on volume, rather than quality.

With volume, comes a further increase of pressure, and a further deterioration of the quality of common spaces through, amongst other things, over-crowding and through an infrastructure (such as that of public cleansing, for instance) which simply cannot keep up with the sheer mass of population in the country.

Malta needs to face the fact that a re-think to the country’s tourism industry is needed.  Quality should be favoured over quantity – but that has to come from the government as well. 

It needs to decide whether it wants to emphasise quality by actually issuing policy which protects what’s left of Malta’s cultural identity and charm or whether it wants to emphasise on quantity by focusing on attracting thousands to the island through festivals or events such as Lost & Found or others of its ilk.

Strategies look great on paper and in full colour-printed booklets – but they need to be sure to address the elephant in the room in order to be fully effective.

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