The Malta Independent 17 July 2024, Wednesday
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TMID Editorial: Tackle over-tourism before it is too late

Thursday, 20 June 2024, 09:15 Last update: about 27 days ago

In comments given to The Malta Independent on Sunday last month, economist Prof. Lino Briguglio made it very clear. Malta has exceeded its carrying capacity in terms of tourism arrivals, he said, and the problems associated with large numbers of tourists are exacerbated by disorganised infrastructure and weak traffic management.

In his opinion, and we are very much in agreement with him on this, Malta is like a cruise ship which is in complete disarray because of it being well over-capacity and not being managed well, with the result that all passengers are dissatisfied with their experience.

It would be better, he argued, if Malta were a cruise ship which remains within its limits in terms of carrying capacity, which would leave its passengers more satisfied.

For many years, successive governments have sought to increase the numbers. Each time some statistics are issued, we have tourism ministers and authorities exclaiming with pride that a new record has been achieved. First, a few decades ago, we reached the one million target; then it became two million and now we are heading towards three million, a goal we will most likely reach this year.

The government was worried – and the tourism industry with it – when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the tourism industry hard. The numbers dropped suddenly because of travel restrictions, and the economy suffered. Now that the pandemic is over, the “numbers” have returned with a bang and we have started to break records again.

But, we ask, is this really the way forward? Are we happy with just having more and more tourists coming over, adding to our infrastructural problems which are already beyond high given the excessive rise in the population in the last 10 years?

The hotel industry has to fill its beds although, we must also say it, more and more people are looking for alternative accommodation while on holiday. As things stand now, the industry is not complaining, given that the tourists are coming in droves.

But, as Prof. Briguglio said, we have exceeded our carrying capacity and, sooner rather than later, we run the risk of a collapse. In destinations where tourism – or over-tourism – has had a negative effect on the population, people have started to protest for limits to be set. We have not reached that point yet, but it is likely that we are getting there.

We must admit that over the years Malta has lost much of its charm – the huge traffic jams at any time of day, the concrete jungle of our buildings, the lack of cleanliness in public places and the huge pressure on the infrastructure have all contributed to making Malta less attractive.

We can say it in a different way – if 10 tourists spend €100 and 100 tourists spend €10, Malta would still end up with €1,000 in its pockets, but the footprint of those 10 tourists and the pressure they would leave on the country would be much less than the footprint and pressure of 100 tourists.

The government and the industry seem oblivious to this, and keep on targeting numbers, rather than quality. It is the time, before it is too late, for those responsible to stop ignoring what is obvious and come up with a better strategy for an industry that is crucial for our economy.

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