The Malta Independent 18 July 2024, Thursday
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Open season on the islands

Julian Zarb Sunday, 23 June 2024, 07:57 Last update: about 26 days ago

This week the local news brought a breath of fresh air to many people, it showed that there is a light at the end of a long and dark tunnel that is tainted with illicit behaviour and bad governance.  This result will also prove positive for the upcoming summer season if that glimmer of light begins to indicate a future which brings a quality of life for the local community and the visitors that is sustainable, decent and peaceful.

With the tourism peak season opening slowly the islands should have been in a position, had there been a strategy and policy that was compiled sensibly and seriously), to attract the right type of visitor – the one who wants to be here rather than the one who is totally oblivious of the destination and the responsibility that tourism brings with it.  But we have a government interested in the numbers rather than the quality.  All this talk of quality tourism was just hot air that left a bad smell around it.  Now it is time to prepare for the future – maybe that will be soon or in two or three years, we need to prepare for this seriously by adopting the integrated approach to tourism.  I will discuss this process in this article now and, as usual, include the six stages that need to be followed to achieve this successfully.

Tourism has always been considered as some endless cash cow that can bring happiness and wealth to a few stakeholders who look at raking in the profits in the short-term.  There was that time in the late eighties when tourist arrivals hit the millionth figure, businesspersons were euphoric, politicians were ecstatic and the people were mimicking that ecstasy, then the truth came out – what was the real cost of this sudden leap in a decade from 100,000 tourists to one million?  An infrastructure that was shattered, a waste management process that was non-existent, energy and water resources that were totally exhausted. 

In 1987, the new government was burdened with the task of putting right these shortcomings with an intensive plan of investment.  For a time businesses, the community and the government were enjoying a quality of life like they had not experienced in years. Then as the saying goes, once again, familiarity breeds contempt – businesses started to be short sighted again, the feeling of “You’ve never had it so good” was predominant. 

In 2013 a new government took advantage of this mentality and closed its eyes to that sense of responsibility and good management of tourism and once again we are now experiencing an environment that is polluted through heavy traffic, a surplus of motor vehicles, a catering industry that has taken over public land illicitly and a service mentality that is shoddy and totally unprofessional. Yet one may well say: But tourists are coming”, Taxi drivers are saying they are doing good business from the tourist trade, restaurants and coffee shops are packed.  But again what is the price we have to pay for this quantitative industry?  How much are we paying to host these visitors? Look at the waste that is being generated (despite a process of separation and superficial management procedures); the energy and water are still prone to breakdowns despite a perfectly effective interconnector and a new power station. No, this is not the ideal start to a new tourist season that will depict a quality destination and I expect that for now we have to put up with Mr and Mrs Blogg and Herr and Frau Schmidt for now!

But there is a way out and these six stages may help to indicate the positive outlet if we continue to do our part together:


1.       Following the result of last week’s elections, you and I have already taken the first step to recovery.  We indicated clearly that change has to come, positive change, national change.  Now we need to keep up this momentum by not accepting anything less than good from government.  This will mean shouting loud when there is one sign of sliding back into the dark tunnel. Only we can make change happen, it will not happen on its own.

2.      The change must be followed with an active participation in the development of an updated strategy and policy for tourism on the islands.  This is not the remit, as I have said in the past of government but it is an integrated approach that needs everyone’s input.

3.      All of us must keep up the momentum by adopting a sense of stewardship and ownership for tourism – ensuring that the principles of sustainability and responsibility are not only declared by that there is consistent action.

4.      The sense of hospitality and service will only reflect the quality that it should if it is genuine and comes from professionals who are trained and have the skills, qualifications and competencies to undertake them.  The days of shoddy and arrogant service personnel (cowboys, I think we used to call them!) need to be behind us.

5.      The tourism activity needs to follow an interactive process of relationships between the host and the visitor. The community and the tourist are not living in ghettoes or cells but share the natural, urban and rural resources.  We must learn this is an important aspect of tourism and its success for a quality destination.

6.      Finally, tourism must be seen as a beneficial activity in terms of the social, cultural, economic and infrastructural aspect for everyone and not just for those who invest in the business of tourism – it is a unifying activity.

By following these six stages, we can ensure that these islands are managed professionally, sustainably and with the idea of developing a quality activity that attracts the visitor who wants to be here not the one who wants to be here.  Travel and Tourism to these islands today is about quantitative gains for the greedy and uncouth.  We need to put professionalism and hospitality back in the equation.


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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