31 JULY 2002
Lest the BIO-11Sep syndrome affect tourism
Terror and fear were not the only by-product of Bin Ladens kamikaze decision to obliterate the Twin Towers. Unknowingly, the terrorist gave ailing western economies an excuse to justify their downfall. Soon after the scenes of terror were broadcast to the whole world the blame-it-on 11 September syndrome (BIO-11Sep) was born.
Admittedly, the horrific events shocked the world and rocked the financial markets. The world is not the same place it was before. Any plane crash, suspicious activity or accident rekindles memories of terrorist activity. Bin Laden hurt the western worlds psyche and as a consequence shook the foundations of society. Financial and social priorities were re-assessed, an exercise that gave western economies an unexpected jolt.
It is only now that we are witnessing signs of revival after nine months of free fall.
Malta was not alienated from the negative impact of the tragic events that unfolded in New York and Washington, especially with an economy heavily dependent on tourism and one giant semi-conductor producer. A drop in tourist arrivals was to be expected. The crippled international business climate and lower consumer demand for electronic products, as people re-valued their spending, did little to help matters in Malta.
But in business one must sift through the problems and focus on the real issues. Things have to be put in their proper perspective.
It would be naive to allow the BIO-11Sep syndrome to influence the debate on financial and economic restructuring.
The country as a whole and numerous other businesses, including the tourist sector, were facing problems well before that fateful day.
Private enterprise has, over the past few years, faced the realities of restructuring that in more ways than one has had its toll on short-term profitability. A restructuring that requires businesses to operate with realistic business plans and attainable goals. Private enterprise is slowly learning that consumers have to be placed at the centre of business activity. They are also realising that innovation is the way forward in a market that easily becomes saturated.
The same can be said of the tourist industry. Numbers have declined and not just because of 11 September. Competition in the region has increased tremendously with numerous other sea and sun locations offering attractive packages.
Individual operators have to make sure that the service offered to tourists is the best. In an industry heavily dependent on word of mouth as a prime source of publicity value-for-money is a prerogative. Operators should leave no stone unturned in being creative.
Tourism does not only benefit the individual operators. The magnitude of the industry has an overall impact on the country at large, which means that government has a direct role to play.
In most cases the general shoddy environment betrays the efforts that private enterprise has embarked on. Historical monuments are left to rot, country lanes are potholed and riddled with litter, areas such as Paceville are allowed to deteriorate into filthy, rowdy places and fish farms continue mushrooming, further polluting the sea. A one-star environment does nothing to help the tourist industry. More effort has to be dedicated to enhancing greenery and keeping the country clean. Safety is another important issue and although Malta is nowhere near as dangerous as major European cities, an emphasis on law and order would not go amiss.
Simply succumbing to the BIO-11Sep syndrome will do nothing to alleviate the problems that hound tourism. With a concerted effort from all these problems can be turned into opportunities.A little more introspection by both the operators and government would not do any harm at a time when arrival figures are on a one-way track downhill.