The Malta Independent 21 April 2024, Sunday
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TMID Editorial: Tourism and sustainability

Thursday, 15 February 2024, 09:50 Last update: about 3 months ago

The numbers have started to grow again and the question is: will they become too much?

This week we learnt that the number of tourists who visited Malta in 2023 was a record figure, exceeding the record that was reached in 2019, in pre-Covid times.

The National Statistics Office put the number of arrivals at 2,975,670, while the government, in a conference held some time later, added the number of persons who stayed overnight on board cruises to increase the tally to 3,002,823.

It is clear that the crisis brought about by the Covid pandemic is now over. People have started to travel in droves once again, and Malta picked up where it left off before the virus wreaked havoc around the world.

It was good to hear that it did not take long for Malta to return to its tourism record years. The industry has over the years become one of the mainstays of our economy, and the investment put in by private entrepreneurs to give their guests the best possible stay while on the island has been immense.

Whether this is backed up by what tourists find when they leave their hotels is another matter.

And this is where the initial question comes in play – how many tourists can Malta take? A study recently showed that Malta would need five million tourists for its present and planned hotel establishments to register a high occupancy rate. Can Malta sustain those numbers?

The arrival of so many visitors must be put in the context that Malta’s population is also growing rapidly. In 2013, it was 425,000, which has grown to over 535,000 in just these 10 years, mostly through the importation of workers to cover employment openings in a number of industries that needed manpower.

This has added more strain on the infrastructure, energy, sewage, traffic and all other problems associated with overcrowding, not to mention the need to have more accommodation, which resulted in a frenzy of new buildings coming up to provide the necessary space.

We were not prepared for this fast growth, and the problems are set to increase. Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, last year, indicated that the resident population needs to grow to 800,000 to sustain Malta’s current economic model – unless this is changed. Since those famous words, the government has given no indication that it is changing tack, meaning that population issues are set to become worse in the near future.

This is where, then, tourism comes in. Malta is no longer the charming, quiet place that it was not so long ago, which made it attractive to people who wanted a quiet, safe destination where to spend a few days of relaxation. It has become chaotic and noisy, and dirtier too, as we cannot seem to understand the need to keep public places as clean as we keep our homes.

If, then, we have issues such as the prolonged power cuts we had last summer when temperatures soared and the power distribution network failed in some areas, then we will sure suffer the consequences in terms of tourism numbers too.

As things stand now, the tourism authorities can still bask in the light of their success, largely due to the hard work put in by the private sector and the thousands of employees on their books. But there may soon come a time when the price of our unbridled development, ever-growing population and lack of planning with have to be paid.

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