08 MAY 2002
Speaking at Saturdays EU tourism ministers meeting in Spain, Tourism minister Michael Refalo called for maximum results with minimum disturbance to Maltas unique tourism-related features.
He explained how the most recent measurement of tourisms share of the Maltese economy shows the leisure industrys contribution to the local economy as a quarter of GDP, a fifth of government revenue and a third of the number of gainfully employed.
These findings, he explains, coupled with Maltas limited spatial area, call for accurately targeted policies and strategic solutions to achieve maximum results with minimum disturbance of all that makes Malta positively different from other Mediterranean and island destinations.
Dr Refalo explains the strategy being implemented to this end, "We have therefore opted for a controlled tourism development scenario in the market. The last three years have seen an influx of thousands of new beds at four and five star level and a parallel withdrawal from the accommodation sector.
"Significantly, by end 2001, bed stock stood at 200 less than in 1999. Moreover, our thrust towards more sustainable forms of tourism, not least a year-long programme of activities to promote the International Year of Ecotourism, clearly transmits Maltas basic message."
The principle thrust is to generate volume growth in the winter and shoulder months while maintaining current levels during the high season.
As such, Dr Refalo explains the strategy of keeping a close rapport with global players, while increasingly partnering with specialist operators and niche market players.
"Our visitor profile now reads, 20 per cent in winter, 44 per cent during the shoulder months and 36 per cent in summer. There is still room for improvement and change to strengthen winter business by attracting more CIM traffic and additional motivational tourism. The same applies, but to a lesser extent, to spring and autumn.
Dr Refalo emphasised that tourism is mainly a private sector activity. As such, he explains that while cultivating and ensuring a harmonious and mutually beneficial partnership between private initiative and public sector structures, government sets broad policy parameters, and delegates day to day matters and policy implementation to the private sector.
"Moreover," he adds, "government makes four yearly financial commitments to the Malta Tourism Authority, while it is private enterprise representatives, who hold all board and directorate positions, decide how best to apply funding for destination promotion and publicity, the industrys ground rules and organisation, product planning and law enforcement."
As tourism is very dependent on activities that do not constitute its core businesses, Dr Refalo cited a need for greater synergy between the leisure industry and transport, the environment, the arts, public order, works and utilities.
"We have therefore set up a forum, where these diverse and other interests are represented. At twice monthly meetings, members look for practical solutions to organisational and logistic problems and other challenges encountered by the leisure industry."
Dr Refalo also noted the European Unions greater recognition and interest in the development, better management and facilitation of tourism as a means of generating employment and economic advancement. "Malta," he comments, "is keen to play a role towards meeting the goals which the EU has set for this sector."