29 MAY 2002
Tourism Minister Michael Refalo, speaking at the launch in Qawra of Peter G. Lemons book "Guide to shore diving in the Maltese Islands", last week released new statistical data relating to the diving niche market.
Dr Refalo also announced the revival of the Blue Dolphin of Malta Trophy underwater photographic competition, while adding that he would personally visit tuna penning operations to establish whether or not they cause pollution and harm the tourist industry.
Referring to Mr Lemons publication, the Minister said that the book was the end result of years of painstaking research and dives undertaken by the author. The book is well written, very informative, pictorially documented and "will certainly become every Malta diving enthusiasts vade mecum. Peter Lemon explored all the sites he illustrates and presents local and visiting divers with a detailed topographic map of the sea bed around Malta."
The Minister revealed that recent MTA research shows that divers, their families and friends, constitute a sizable segment of visitors to Malta. Approximately 40,000 divers visit Malta annually, most of them accompanied by family and friends who are all regular visitors to Malta and Gozo.
MTAs survey shows that 40% travel with their spouse or partner, 15% on their own, 13% with their family, 22% with friends, 4% in organized groups and the remaining 6% as part of diving club or school parties. Repeat business is very strong "so much so that 47% of survey respondents confirm that they have been to Malta on previous occasions. Of these 35% once before, 34% between two to four times, and 31% five times and over."
76% of respondents specified that the main reason for their visit was to practice their sport of diving. 43% stay up to 8 days, 45% between 9 and 15 days and 12% for 16 days and over.
Minister Refalo said that diving accounted for around 80,000 visitors annually and that MTA gave great attention and importance to this market segment. He added that "motivational travel niches have been instrumental in shielding Malta from the full brunt of the 11th September crisis."
The Minister warned that for tourism to succeed everyone has to play a part to ensure the industrys prosperity. "We cannot work at cross purposes. Maltese and visitors insist on clean, unpolluted seas. God has been kind to us. We must therefore see that man also does his bit."
The Minister then referred to complaints received and voiced his concern about the proliferation of tuna penning operations. "I accept that these enterprises are big money spinners for whoever invests in them and for Maltas foreign exchange earnings. However there is no comparison between them and the contribution which the tourist industry makes in the way of job creation and earnings.
If tuna penning operations harm tourism and are a cause of pollution to our seas, then it is the penning operations which must move further out to sea or close down, not tourism."
The Minister said that he would organize a trip and personally visit to see tuna penning operations with divers and the media, to see for himself.
In conclusion Minister Refalo announced that the Blue Dolphin of Malta Trophy for underwater photography, which had been inexplicably discontinued some years back, would be revived and held in November 2002. Minister Refalo congratulated MTAs Product Planning and Development Directorate for the support and funding given to the event organizers.
The Minister congratulated and thanked Peter Lemon for his contribution to Maltas leisure industry and hoped that every diver would buy a copy of his book.