Imagine all the people | Clayton Bartolo

The bottom line is that people everywhere want to travel more than ever to the places they want and when they want. Malta's tourism sector performance was better than average and the outlook for 2023 is even more positive

Imagine. 5,500 exhibitors, 90,000 delegates and attendees from 180 countries, 3,000 media people and 333 bloggers. All present under one roof for three solid days. You don’t have to imagine it. It just happened.

ITB Berlin, the biggest tourism fair in Europe, was back at the beginning of this month with a massive bang. Apart from German ones, participants also hailed from Austria, Switzerland, Eastern European and as far away as Asia, North America and the Middle East.

After a painful three-year wait pause of the pandemic, the ITB bubbled with newfound enthusiasm, innovation, and optimism. Anticipation of a better future reigned supreme. In fact, despite various challenges, 2023 is expected to be a record for the industry and the fair showcased the justified upbeat feeling with panache. We had every reason to embrace it to. The bottom line is that people everywhere want to travel more than ever to the places they want and when they want. Malta's tourism sector performance was better than average and the outlook for 2023 is even more positive.

Clearly, ITB is now the leading platform for the global travel industry. For us whose job it is to reboot and reposition the Maltese tourism industry in this rapidly changing scenario, it was the place to be. Given that tourism is a people’s business par excellence we made every effort to make new contacts and strengthen long-standing ones.

We met with leading tour operators from  Germany, Austria and Switzerland, independent travel agency groups, airlines, online travel agencies and booking platforms like Expedia,,, Hotelbeds and others, and media people covering the industry globally. The MTA’s CEO and Chairman gave several interviews and I met with my ministerial counterparts from various countries.

The ITB Buyers ‘Circle with its 1,300 members was a roaring success. Membership of this exclusive circle was limited to leading travel industry buyers. Their sales increased substantially, and international participation grew from 50 to 70 per cent since 2019.

This fair recognised that we are at a game changing moment, a pathway from the devastation wreaked by the pandemic to the emerging scenario today and tomorrow. Clearly, we will not be returning to where we left off before covid struck. Tourism now and in the future is a different ball game marked by new opportunities as well as challenges.

In this context we discussed and shared experiences on a wide range of new and emerging trends in the market - client booking behaviour and patterns, advertising effectiveness, new marketing and promotion media, flight connectivity, product development, new competitors, the challenges of economic downturns, the higher cost of living, less disposable income, the fate of war in Ukraine, human resources shortages (including in the airline industry), operational problems still being faced by airports, and many more.

Our Malta stand was a hive of activity. Apart from the MFT and MTA delegation from head office, MTA Frankfurt and Air Malta we hosted representatives of several Maltese hotels, DMCs and incoming agents. They all reported very positive meetings with their business partners. Again, their predictions for 2023 are that this year will be even better than the last. Heritage Malta added its unique touch with its innovative Taste History concept which generated massive interest in Malta's history and gastronomy.

Yet our outreach stretched even further. We set up shop with our very own stand in the LGBTIQ pavilion which was piloted by MTA. It was a pleasure for us to be joined by ARC representatives to launch Europride 2023 which will be held in Malta between 7-17 September.

Our vision and efforts were duly recognised – it made us very proud to be the recipients of the ITB best LGBTIQ event award.

The ITB fair’s tagline, ‘Open for Change’ resonated deeply with the mood which reigned over these three days. For Malta to continue making a success of its tourism industry we must be bold and visionary to fully understand and embrace today and tomorrow’s changing world.

But this will only take us halfway there. The other half is for us to have the vision, courage and determination to change accordingly. We need to imagine all the people.