15 October 2003

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Tourism past, present and future

Malta Tourism Authority Marketing and Promotion Director Paul Galea speaks to The Malta Financial and Business Times about the trends in the local tourism industry and the future which lies ahead for the integral economic sector.

Global and Maltese Tourism has been hard hit over recent years with the events of 9-11, the war in Iraq and the recent outbreak of SARS. Would you say the turmoil that Malta has faced as a result of these factors is now safely behind us?
Global tourism has been definitely affected negatively by the war in Iraq, 11 September and the recent outbreak of SARS. This impact was felt in Malta, also because tourists visiting the island tend to do so via air travel.
In addition, many of our clients in core markets decided to take a holiday in their own country, and this meant that many Mediterranean resorts, particularly North Africa, found themselves with much lower volumes of tourists than they may have projected.
To counteract this deficiency, they lowered their prices to levels which was previously unheard of. This rendered the Malta offer far more expensive in comparison, particularly in the summer market. Despite all this, tourist arrival statistics for the first nine months of the year indicate a 2.25 per cent increase (or 20,000 more) than the comparative period last year.
This is a creditable performance in the present circumstances, though the hotel sector has reported having to lower prices in order to compete with the greatly reduced prices of North African resorts.
Today’s increasingly globalised economy has placed many of Malta’s industry in fierce competition with products offered by other countries. How would you gauge the performance of Maltese tourism in this scenario?
This harsher competition has exposed the weakness of Malta’s summer offer, particularly our beach offer when compared to the offers made by North African resorts.
An improvement of our beach offer will definitely allow us to compete better and possibly command higher prices than these competing destinations in summer.
What do you envisage for Malta’s tourism product with the advent of EU membership? Would you expect this product to become more attractive for EU citizens and non-EU citizens?
The Malta Tourism Authority is pleased to note that the bulk of the assistance that Malta will receive from the European Union during the next three years is mainly earmarked for the improvement of the environment and to support the productive sectors, including heritage, as well as the development of human resources.
The MTA has always been of the opinion that environmental issues were the most serious problem faced by the Maltese tourist industry and therefore this assistance will help in no small way to solve what are essentially national problems, and the most crucial challenges to the Maltese tourist industry.
No doubt, the professional exposure and management of our innumerable historical sites has been a problem in the last years which hindered our efforts to attract more and more cultural tourism, particularly in the off-peak season. Once again, the improvement in this sector will make it possible for Malta to tackle more effectively the issue of seasonality of tourism, which we also consider to be a major challenge.
What initiatives does the MTA expect to get underway in the near future?
Our main marketing objectives for 2004 is to continue to restructure the British market and to concentrate more on our core markets. The MTA’s marketing strategy includes the upkeep of its network overseas, advertising campaigns in our core markets, an international public relations effort, participation in more than 90 tourism-related fairs, support to our trade partners and tour operators, and a specific plan to promote Conference and Incentive Travel (CIT), Special Interest Travel (SIT) and the Fly-Cruise sector.
Once again, the MTA will be undertaking a TV campaign in the United Kingdom, and a strong advertising campaign in the press as well as billboard and poster advertising in Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy, Belgium and Holland. The Authority will launch a promotional plan for Spain and Portugal as these markets are crying out for development.
Numbers from the lucrative cruise liner tourism sector have been on a continuous incline for some time now. What further growth potential do you see for this sector?
Malta is now firmly established as a leading port of call in the Mediterranean. We enjoy close co-operation with Viset, Malta Maritime Authority, Malta International Airport, and Air Malta, among other stakeholders, in order to expand this sector.
The next stage of growth is to establish Malta in the Fly-Cruise market, which is more remunerative to our economy, particularly the hotel sector. It is estimated that 60 per cent of passengers from cruise ships which originate from our harbours are likely to have a holiday in Malta before or after the cruise.
I am pleased to say that there are tangible plans for next summer in this sector, which will make a more valid contribution to our economy beyond being a port of call.
What needs to be done to re-launch Malta’s tourist offer?
It is important to establish clearly the stage of development in which our tourism industry is situated. Since 1993, the total number of nights has fallen by about one million. However, employment levels in hotels and catering establishment continued to rise until 2000. This rise is due to the fact that our tourism industry has undergone radical restructuring. The four and five-star sector rose from 2.2 million nights to 4 million nights, or an increase of 80 percent.
The performance of the last two years indicates that Malta will have to re-launch its offer in order to continue to restructure and to meet the ever changing needs of our clients. Definitely, the main tasks ahead are to tackle all environmental issues effectively, a professional exposure of our heritage and the establishment of a national management and beach development policy to boost our summer offer.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
Tel: (356) 21382741-3, 21382745-6 | Fax: (356) 21385075 | E-mail