The Malta Independent 19 May 2022, Thursday

Preparing for a sustainable and responsible tourism activity

Sunday, 23 January 2022, 08:27 Last update: about 5 months ago

Julian Zarb

In my last article, I wrote of the predictions I see for a more sustainable and responsible tourism activity rather than one in which the industry, the authorities and the other more commercial stakeholders tend to bumble into without a thought for professionalism and care. But if we want to be seen as a destination that promotes itself as looking for quality then there is still a long way for us to go.

I have been hearing so much about the manner in which the key stakeholders are reopening tourism without a thought for quality or sustainability. It seems as if the authorities and the businesses have made a pact to put the economy before the nation’s health. We need to remember this is still a pandemic and it has not morphed into the epidemic we were all hoping for. This means that if we take risks now with the nation’s health and safety, we could be returning to rising numbers and isolation.  

But let us turn now to how we can really get ourselves ready for the moment of truth, hopefully in the second or third quarter of this year. I would like to start with the selection of staff – these are key to a successful achievment of quality and real hospitality and service. I am a little concerned about the staff we are presently employing, for example, as food couriers (indeed, food-handlers) across these islands. I do not see any identification card showing that these are appropriately vaccinated, that they are regularly tested as food-handlers, that they even have a food-handling certificate (some of them certainly need to take another driving test!) – I, for one, do not and will not use the services of these food-handlers until I am assured it is really safe to do so. This goes for all other food-handlers and service providers; are we still employing people as mechanised robots or are we going to be careful that they really can apply the management of tourism in their work?

Government today needs to step aside and let the key stakeholders – the local authorities, the local businesses and the local community – determine the tourism activity they would like to see on these islands, the type of tourism that improves the quality of life for the community and the type of tourism that will improve the level of hospitality, service and sustainability for the industry. Once and for all forget the idea that tourism is a way of “making a quick buck!” The days of those cowboy operators should be well and truly out and Covid should have taught us a lesson there. But did it? I pass by outlets, whether these are take-away outlets or eat-in places, and I still see a certain amount of sloppiness, a disregard to basic hygiene regulations and a lack of care in the delivery of hospitality and service.

So during 2022 we need to all work together to ensure sustainability and responsibility for tourism. This is not just a theoretical statement, mind you, this will mean that we can achieve the status of a destination that does not attract the “bucket and spade” clans whose only interest is price and availability, but it will bring a visitor who finds the destination attractive, full of experiential value and worth a visit or more.

To achieve this, I have to say we need a government and authority that is focussed on the national interest, not on appealing to constituents and political whims; we need authorities that do their job independently of their political masters and businesses, that look at professionalism rather than irresponsible profitability.

 

Recommendations and Summary

1.      Employees need to be trained, qualified and committed to working professionally.

2.      There needs to be a united effort to provide fair and acceptable conditions of work for all employees, including a policy of upskilling at work.

3.      The destination needs to work with others in the region to provide a diverse and quality experience rather than squabble over price and availability.

4.      There needs to be a government and authorities today that are focussed on the national interest and that work through the integrated approach to planning and managing tourism.

5.      Finally, we should look to rebuilding a tourism that works for all, not just an industry that satisfies the unethical and the amateur.

 

 

Dr Julian Zarb is a researcher, local tourism planning consultant and an Academic 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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