Sustainability is the way forward | Clayton Bartolo

2030's Tourism Strategy, titled “Recover, Rethink, Revitalise" focuses on Malta's future in effective tourism 

Malta's tourism continues to boom so effective planning is crucial from now
Malta's tourism continues to boom so effective planning is crucial from now

We are at a point in time where we can look back at the accelerated and rapid recovery of our tourism to pre-pandemic levels when most of our competitors are still striving to fully recover from the huge shock that COVID-19 posed on the Tourism Industry worldwide.

Our Tourism Strategy for 2030, “Recover, Rethink, Revitalise”, has now reached that juncture where the recovery phase has been delivered thus opening the door for working on and delivering the remaining two pillars: the pillars on which our well-planned and thought out tourism direction in the coming years is to be based and formulated.

We are living in exciting times that are allowing us to actively plan ahead and thoughtfully for the development of an industry which is not only one of strategic national importance, but one in which we believe not only in terms of its strong economic contribution but also in terms of its inherent capacity to bring together and valorise all that makes this small island state a special and unique location.

Let’s discuss and plan together on the basis of increased knowledge, information and full awareness of the challenges and threats which the world faces from various areas be they climate-related, emanating from increased amounts of human needs and activities or even changes in the geo-political world order: all elements recognised to have an impact on the direction the world will be taking in the coming years as humanity adjusts and adopts a more sustainable approach towards doing things.

Here in Malta, we are no exception.  We operate within the aspirations of an advanced and modern economy but within the context which our small size imposes on us.  The reality is that people’s aspirations within a given territory do not expand or shrink relative to the territory’s surface area.  Throughout our millennial history, humanity in Malta and Gozo has always managed to make full use of the little space and even fewer resources which our archipelago has been endowed with.  The only variable we have always had in excess has been our people.

But this is not all negative.  Despite it being small and resource-poor, Malta compensates for this through richness, uniqueness and diversity which belies its small surface area.  And this is precisely why we stand out.  We stand out as one of only two Mediterranean Island States in a sea which is teeming with islands which however form part of larger countries.  We stand out as a destination which impresses even when compared with some of the relative giants with whom we compete: Italy, Spain, Greece, France and Turkey to mention but a few.  

We are linking our 22 individual strategies to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.  We have embedded the need to increasingly apply the principle of sustainability into more and more of our actions.  Our Tourism Observatory is working to increase the number of Tourism Sustainability Indicators to bring us in line with our more advanced competitors and to place us in the same as them.

How are we doing this?  We continue to address seasonality by maintaining our reputation as the Mediterranean’s least seasonal destination.   We spread the risks of tourism by continuing to widen the range of source markets.  In 1981, 80% of our tourists originated from one market, the United Kingdom; last year our largest source market to date, Italy, will only be responsible for less than 20% of total incoming arrivals.  We have spread our age-group distribution and widened the motivational spectrum of reasons to visit Malta to an unprecedented level.

We attract increased numbers of visitors who visit the destination for its own merits rather than for reasons of affordability or availability.  People are spending more on better quality accommodation, experiencing a more authentic gastronomic offer and enjoying a wealth of historical and cultural attractions which have not only been lovingly restored but are also better interpreted and presented through the integration of the latest digital technologies.  

Our tourism model for the next years until the fulfilment of our 2030 Strategy will be based on the principle of maximising tourism returns whilst minimising negative impacts.  This entails a more critical evaluation of the alternative options before us: an evaluation based on investing in what is best for the destination and what we are best at attracting.  We also need to be better prepared to mitigate and adapt to all the changes we will be facing in a changing world.

Travel and Tourism have been the success stories of the economic transformation of so many countries including Malta. To an extent, it had to be the crisis engendered by COVID-19 to make many appreciate the important and extensive economic and social spread of tourism.

Whether we are talking about climate change, pollution, plastics, feeding the global population, addressing inequalities and many other issues, sustainability is central to addressing the world’s challenges if we truly wish to steer the planet and its human and natural diversity into safer waters.  

Sustainability emerges as the common thread which all our competing neighbours are increasingly weaving into the fabric of their tourism planning and hospitality actions.  If we are to fall behind in our actions in this regard our attractiveness and our competitiveness stand to fall back in relation to our competitive set.

We are committed to going down along the sustainable tourism way. The objectives are clear. The way ahead may be bumpy and what the future holds for us is not totally clear. Nevertheless, we are putting the structures and thinking in place to work within the comfort of informed decisions so that we may reconvene year after year in the knowledge that we are doing our best to satisfy today’s needs without compromising the needs of future generations to do so too.

Clayton Bartolo is the Minister for Tourism and Public Cleanliness