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Published on : Tuesday, November 12, 2013
NSO statistics on tourism issued in August showed that inbound tourism advanced by 9.3% in August when compared to last year, reaching 218,799 arrivals. Excluding the 528 passengers who stayed overnight on board a berthed cruise vessel, 218,271 were departing tourists – an increase of nine per cent when compared to 2012 levels.
Total nights spent during August reached almost 2.2 million, the majority of which were spent in collective accommodation establishments.
As soon as the results were issued, the Ministry of Tourism issued a media release stating that it was the first time ever that the number of departing tourists in any given month exceeded the 200,000 benchmark.
So did this mean that Labour had just taken all the credit?
Tourism Minister Karmenu Vella said: “Tourism is an industry which reacts both to short-term and long-term stimuli; I believe that all sides of the political divide agree that tourism stands to benefit most from continuity and from a healthy debate.
“Here in Malta we are generally fortunate in possessing a generally mature political debate about tourism, motivated primarily by a universal willingness to seeing it continue to thrive and prosper.
“So my answer to your question is that the record results we achieved in August owe their success to the work carried out by the previous administration as well as to the efforts and inputs of the new government.
“This administration has continued to support tourism in all manners possible and has managed to create stronger synergies through an all encompassing ministry which brings together tourism, aviation, Air Malta and the Institute of Tourism Studies, besides the Parliamentary Secretariat for Culture.
“During the past few months we have improved on what we inherited from our predecessors, and have managed to give the industry a higher short-term confidence and a more positive longer term momentum,” Mr Vella said.
Turning to the government’s plans for Air Malta, whose management was left untouched, Mr Vella said: “The previous government had already set a five-year restructuring plan which was discussed and approved by the EC while the previous government had also appointed a management team for a three-year period to work on and implement the same plan.
“This present government acknowledged all this and has left it up to the appointed management to deliver what was promised in the plan,” Mr Vella said.
So what are the government’s plans related to tourism in general for next year? What initiatives are being created to enhance tourism?
Mr Vella said that the government’s primary objective is to continue to sustain tourism growth during all months of the year with special emphasis on the shoulder and winter months.
“We aim for value growth during the peak summer months and volume and value growth during the off-peak months.
“We have already managed to secure an 8.7% increase in airline seat capacity for the coming winter season while we are continuing to work hard to ensure that we have the necessary airline capacity for peak summer demand, particularly in markets where demand for current services is nearing saturation.
“While continuing to give due attention and allocating adequate marketing resources to our core and secondary markets, we shall also be widening our activities in a number of growth markets such as Russia, the Middle East, North America and South East Asia with a view to building the foundations for larger tourism flows from these sources over the coming years,” he said.
Asked what the situation is related to the bidding process linked to the Gozo cruise liner terminal and yacht marina, and while on the subject what was being done by the government to enhance tourism-related jobs for Gozitans, Mr Vella replied: “An expression of interest was launched a few weeks back for a cruise liner berth and a marina in Gozo, the response to which was positive with some 12 interested investors submitting an application.
“An evaluation committee has been appointed and the evaluation process has already started,” Mr Vella said.
Regarding the tourism-related employment for Gozitans, Mr Vella said: “Our main objectives for Gozo are being centred round extending the island’s tourism season by helping it to attract increased flows of international and domestic tourism during a wider range of months than currently prevailing.
“We recognise the challenges faced by Gozo when competing with mainland Malta for international tourists and also with foreign destinations when it comes to the domestic market.
“A sounder and less seasonal Gozitan tourism industry will undoubtedly generate and sustain more full-time job opportunities for residents of the island while also stimulating further investment in the direct and indirect tourism offer on the island.
“The government’s plans in connection with improved accessibility, the proposed cruise terminal and additional marina facilities will all complement this vision of a quality island tourism destination capitalising on its natural beauty and rural charm and serviced by a home-grown industry offering traditional but at the same time professional hospitality to select market segments.”
Since tourism is our ‘bread and butter,’ how is the Malta Tourism Authority spending its budget related to advertising? Is there a large-scale marketing plan in hand?
“Given the scale and nature of our tourism industry, the MTA continues to engage in a sophisticated marketing plan which has to cater for the multiplicity of markets and segments which we seek to attract from the different geographical markets during the 12 months of the year.
“The MTA’s marketing plan is based on the principle of “think global but act local” which implies that it is based on a set of universally applicable strategies and objectives which are, in turn, adapted to the realities applying in the different markets.
“So, for instance, we have common strategies and objectives for Europe but which differ slightly between say, Italy and Germany.
“Further down the line our plans for Italy also adapt to the different realities applicable in, for example, Rome and Bari.
“In today’s sophisticated marketing world we have to target our local markets with highly specific messages if we want our message to be effective.
“While advertising continues to play an important role within our set of marketing activities it is in no way the only marketing tool we use.
“Advertising, which features a mix of traditional and electronic media is complemented by a complex set of additional marketing activities including strategic ventures with airlines and tour operators, engagement with the retail travel trade via travel agent training and familiarisation, extensive public relations activities, ever-increasing use of the social media and more customer relationship marketing,” he said.
Does Mr Vella agree with the suggestion that showers should be made available for beachgoers?
“We shall strive to continue to improve our beach facilities in line with the expectations of our clients.
“While there is no doubt that our beach offer has improved, within the obvious constraints of small size and high-density usage, it is still to receive the high satisfaction rankings which other aspects of our tourism offer, such as cultural attractions, receive from our visitors.
“The subject of your question comprises a further small but important facility which tourists have come to take for granted when swimming in competing destinations.
“Obviously, given the realities surrounding the availability and cost of water in our country we have to ensure that such facilities will not be abused and will be used in a responsible manner.
“However initiatives such as this need to be seen as part of a wider beach management process if they are to be managed well and succeed,” Mr Vella said.
What is behind the shift in the thousands of French tourists visiting our islands?
Mr Vella pointed out that “France has for a long time been Malta’s fourth most important source market and in recent years the volume of French tourists to our country had settled at a level of around 80,000 tourists per annum. “Traditionally French tourism was very heavily dependent on tour operators selling Malta as a history and culture destination with peaks in the spring and autumn while the summer season was pre-dominated by younger English-language learning students.
“Over the past years, Malta has managed to broaden its appeal in the French market by building on its historical achievements and attracting previously untapped streams of younger, more independent visitors.
“Malta is now directly linked to a geographically wider quantity of French cities by a variety of schedule and low cost airlines with route frequencies which enable tourists to choose different lengths of trip and travel dates either during the weekend or midweek.
“All of these factors have positively influenced Malta’s positioning in the French market so that it has now become a more mainstream destination with a healthier seasonal spread and a wider set of motivational purposes of visit.”
What is the government doing to ‘control’ foreign students, especially during the summer months, to ensure Malta does not get a bad name in this sector and to avoid negative international media reports as a result?
Mr Vella emphasised that sensationalism should be avoided when dealing with topics such as language students.
“Each year Malta hosts increasing numbers of tourists pertaining to this important segment which has developed thanks to the strong investments carried out by the language schools, coupled with the destination’s image as a serious and good centre for learning English in a relaxed Mediterranean setting.
“The segment has also evolved to become a year-round business attracting different types of students and age groups.
“Naturally when a segment grows beyond a certain size some problems are bound to appear, especially when dealing with young travellers who are probably on their first-ever foreign trip without their parents.
“I do believe that all the parties concerned are aware of the challenges of this sector and that there are enough mechanisms in place to tackle problem areas as they arise,” Mr Vella says.
He reiterated that this market ultimately generates tens of thousands of satisfied clients every year, besides contributing economically and financially to our industry and economy.
An MTA survey, whose results were discussed during a seminar in May, found that some restaurants reported an increase in property rent fees while unjust competition by unlicensed establishments was contributing to the decline in profits for restaurateurs. How is the government tackling such issues?
Mr Vella highlighted that the government remains committed to take all necessary steps to uncover unlicensed tourism service providers and either close them down or bring them in conformity with their licensed counterparts.
What is the government doing to get the message across that becoming a professional waiter is as vital as studying for a chef since the MTA survey showed that there is an acute shortage of skilled staff in the restaurant sector?
Mr Vella said that by getting the Institute of Tourism Studies back under the wings of the ministry, this is enabling the government to recognise the important role of educating all those levels of Malta’s workforce who select a career in tourism.
“Tourism is ultimately a hospitality industry in which the most important element of the customer experience is the human service dimension. Service is given to and received by the tourist through his/her interaction with a wide variety of industry front-liners, not only top management.
“It is in recognition of this that our efforts shall concentrate on providing training opportunities at all levels of employment in the industry.
“This will in turn also help to raise the profile of a career in tourism with our prospective workforce by consolidating the message that a job in tourism is something for skilled persons rather than a last resort employment opportunity for those who cannot find employment in any other sector,” he said.
Five-star hotels are being branded by the GWU as promoting precarious working conditions. Does Mr Vella agree with such a statement? And what is behind the sudden surge in foreigners taking up tourism-related jobs, more than Maltese are, especially nationals from the Eastern bloc?
“The government is committed to actively discourage all sorts of practices which either directly or indirectly may lead to precarious working conditions.
“We believe that such practices, besides being inherently wrong and anti-social, ultimately also lead to a reduced visitor experience.
“We would like to improve industry profitability not through the unjust cutting of costs by operators but through the removal of unnecessary burdens such as the exaggeratedly high energy costs which were the end result of years of lack of foresight and planning in managing our energy sector.”
Mr Vella had been quoted as saying during a festival held at ITS earlier this year that diversity has a lot of potential. How is the government using the concept in the tourism sector?
“Diversity is an important component of any destination’s brand values if that destination seeks to attract visitors on the basis of how it differentiates from its competitors.
“In an era of unbridled globalisation, the discerning tourist of today and tomorrow will increasingly seek those destinations which offer something unique and different from other places they have visited.
“We need to develop a destination which embraces diversity and where every tourist of whatever culture or creed could really feel at ease and at home.
“Thus, diversity continues to be something we need to nurture and develop if we want to sustain our attractiveness and competitiveness as a tourism destination for the years to come,” Mr Vella says.
Despite the islands being popular for sun, sea and sand holidays, are they Malta’s unique selling points or is there more to simply sun and sea?
“Of course,” Mr Vella said, adding “how would you otherwise explain our success in attracting tourists throughout the whole year when most of our Mediterranean competition shuts down for the winter?”
Giving an overview of what makes Malta an attractive place, Mr Vella says that “our sophisticated and varied product offer coupled with our islands’ unique mix of natural, climactic and historical attractions ensure that we attract tourists for a wide range of reasons, ranging from winter and summer sun leisure, history and culture breaks, conference and incentive travel, learning English, scuba diving, sports activities, weddings and honeymoons, short breaks, wellness and a host of smaller niches”.
Any big events planned for summer 2014?
“The Maltese islands have a number of religious festivities and cultural events that take place every year; feasts are the life of the islands.
“Such festive commemorations are also a time of food, drink and merriment which brings out the Mediterranean roots of the locals.
“Introduced relatively recently, cultural events such as the Malta Fireworks Festival, the Malta Arts Festival, Notte Bianca and the Malta Jazz Festival and Mediterranea in Gozo are becoming traditions in their own right.
At present we have quite a number of main events planned that will take place during the summer of 2014 including the G?anafest (Malta Mediterranean Folk Music Festival) – 30 May/01 June 2014; The Malta Arts Festival – 1 June till 15 June 2014; The Mala Jazz Festival – 17 July till 19 July 2014; and The Malta Jazz Festival, which has a special place in Malta’s events calendar having, since its inception 22 years ago, attracted to Malta true, international greats of the jazz scene.
“This festival has over the years created an impact on the local cultural scene.
“And last but not least, there are the two most popular and top crowd-pulling events, namely the MTV Festival and Joseph Calleja’s Concert.”
Do you see sustainable tourism as the model for Malta to go forward?
“It is the one and only model which we have to follow since there are no sensible alternatives.
“Our principles of sustainability are based on three major criteria: environmental, social and financial sustainability.
“All three are inter-related and represent different facets of the same principle, i.e. the fact that we use the resources at our disposal in a way which satisfies our immediate needs without unduly compromising the ability of future generations from doing so themselves when their time arrives.”
Does the government have a primary goal for Malta’s tourism sector?
Mr Vella replied: ‘To ensure that tourism maintains its important role of giving a positive contribution to the Maltese economy in a way which ensures a maximisation and a fair distribution of its benefits and the minimisation of the impacts of its costs.”
And what current drawbacks in the industry does Mr Vella see?
“I would rather call them challenges rather than drawbacks,” he said.
“Our small size and its resultant lack of economies of scale; the lack of investment in medium category accommodation; the continual strengthening and growth of our competitors; the industry’s continued dependence on the government to fund all infrastructural, promotional and operational costs associated with tourism; and our total dependence on air transport for our accessibility.”
What is being done to tackle the issue of illegal umbrellas and deckchairs in certain areas such as Comino? Don’t you think it’s high time there should be a clampdown on such illegal activities, especially due to the fact that during the summer months we have often heard tourists themselves complaining about the situation?
“This summer we have taken huge steps in reining in some of the more flagrant abuses by such concessionaires and free riders in our major beaches, which have resulted in substantial parts of the beaches returned to free public use.
“In this area we need to find a healthy and viable compromise between public needs and the provision of requested services on our beaches.
“We need to do this in a manner which does not compromise visitor experience or lead to environmental degradation while at the same time ensuring that the operators who are licensed to provide a service can be assured a decent return on investment in what is ultimately a relatively short season.”
Where do you see Malta’s tourism by 2015?
“An industry still characterised by growth especially in those periods when we need it most; one which is more profitable thanks to the cost-cutting instigated by the government’s achievements in the field of energy generation; an industry which generates more job opportunities for a better skilled workforce, and last but not least an industry which is increasingly proactive and innovative in its approach to compete for business in a highly competitive business environment,” Mr Vella said.
Source:- Malta Tourism Authority