The Malta Independent 1 October 2023, Sunday
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The importance of vision and foresight for tourism

Julian Zarb Sunday, 4 June 2023, 09:01 Last update: about 5 months ago

In my last article, I wrote about the construction industry that has had an adverse effect on the attractiveness, character and quality of life for these islands.  The activity of random and hideous architecture has spread across both Malta and Gozo turning ODZ and protected areas such as village cores and Natura 2000 (including Comino and Ghadira) into faceless ghettoes.  This is in such contrast with the “dream” for a quality tourism destination that the MTA and the Ministry for Tourism thought might be a good idea to increase numbers of visitors and revenue.  To achieve these increases this does not just mean “playing at managing tourism”, it means taking the activity seriously and planning any development or construction sensibly and sustainably.  The issues that must be tackled here include:

1.      Reviewing the development plans that were prepared some thirteen years ago and updating them in terms of the irrelevant and obscene buildings that are creating putrid warts on our landscape.

2.     Ensuring that there is a charter for sustainable and responsible development which must be endorsed by all developers on these islands before they are even given a new or reduced licence to practice their craft. Developers who break the terms of this charter will have their licence revoked and a six figure fine imposed on them.

3.     All buildings must be in line with traditional styles and character.

4.     Carrying capacity studies and LA21 reports for both islands must be prepared as if existing buildings were not there – in some cases these studies have been prepared after the stable door was been closed once the horse has bolted.

5.     Development plans must be carried out by a working group consisting of academics , business representatives and local councillors but must be apolitical.  No politician in parliament should intervene in any way in this process.

6.     Finally, development plans must be prepared for , at least, ten years with a short term monitoring review every five years.

This week I was rather shocked to read about the Malta Tourism Authority Estimates’ Report last week from Parliament. 

With regards to the report on the Annual Report and Financial Statement for 2022 it strikes me to read that , two years after the pandemic, the report starts of with a relatively standard opening about creating a sustainable, healthy and equitable industry but the financial statement fails to include any reference to how this can be achieved through a continuation of the Tourism Grant Schemes (introduced between 2009 and 2013) which motivated initiatives to enhance the added value for visitors.  The statement includes the administrative expenses and income that has remained at par with the previous year and indicates any lack of motivation to drive any innovation into the rethinking, redeveloping and restoring tourism as a sustainable and responsible activity.  Instead we are still looking of "more of the same".

It is obvious that tourism would increase between 2021 and 2022 since during the year (2021) there were still a number of Covid protocols in force and in 2022 travellers and tourists were eager to get away from lockdowns and the restrictions to any destination with available services. This does not reflect any management skills on the part of the MTA Executive really.  

The financial statement details the basic accounting requirement and audit notes for any public or private entity but fails to show any increase in schemes to enhance the quality of tourism, the added value and the development of a better experience.

In summary these estimates lack the foresight or vision for any long-term or short-term planning but focus on the firefighting attempts to administer the authority rather than go the extra mile.

So what should these estimates have indicated and what should have been the catalyst that could drive tourism forward on these islands as a new and redeveloped activity rather than simply a mirror of the pre 2020 activity that started to show cracks such as overtourism, unsustainable factors and a lack of strategy and planning?

1.      The estimates for any tourism authority need to indicate the qualitative results rather than the quantitative results for tourism activity for a destination.

2.     There needs to be a scenario plan that indicates the growth and sustainable development of the activity over a given period – long-term or short term – that can recommend how this growth can be supported by initiatives and incentives for SMEs.

3.     Tourism estimates must not be just the operational costs for the authority but must identify the catalyst for change in growth, quality and value -added.

4.     Finally , the tourism estimates need to promote resilience, assistance and investment to the ever-changing industry.


Still more facts in this short article that I hope will continue to encourage more people to write in and assist in the compilation of the Guidelines to Stewardship by Q3 of 2023.  Thank you to all those who have already shown their support from as far as the UK, Switzerland and Germany (incidentally three of our key source markets).  If we persist in ignoring these facts then , as I have said, tourism here will be an activity that may just attract sordid and nasty characters instead of the visitor who wants to be here – let us keep persisting.

This year I will be completing the Guidelines for Stewardships with the help of a number of individuals and NGOs who have already approached me and I hope to present this to you, as the community, to our politicians and to our authorities.  We may, yet, be able to save these islands from total oblivion as a sustainable and quality tourist destination – that is my New Year’s resolution. Will YOU join me?


Recommendations and Summary:

1.       Let us build community spirit by developing the guidelines for Stewardship together; I invite all those interested to contact me.

2.      We should identify areas where we can regenerate local tourism for the quality visitor.

3.      Recognize our duty as communities to enhance our environment and care for the precious trees that will add value to our moral, ethical and physical quality of life.

4.      Those NGOs and persons (including local councils) interested in  working with me on this project should email me on [email protected] or call me on 99167805.

5.      Let us get going  - let us really build better and reverse the horrendous state of this island.


I sometimes wonder – am I writing for the converted?  Are there any other persons who agree or disagree with me? I frequently meet people who read these articles – but these articles are not just there to be read on a lazy Sunday afternoon, they are there to sow the seeds of change from apathy to commitment – to make tourism an activity we can be proud of.  Let me know what you think and how you feel about tourism.


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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