Is it ‘Tourism Feeds Everyone’... or ‘Everyone Feeds On Tourists’?

I think not myself... but then, what the heck would I even know about ‘tourism’, anyway?

It’s been a while since I’ve watched any local TV; so I’m not sure if those old Malta Tourism Authority ads are even still running, today. But there was a time, not too long ago, when our TVM viewing was regularly interrupted by a series of MTA commercials, informing us all that...

‘Mit-turiżmu, jiekol kulhadd!’

Now: for the benefit of non-Maltese readers... that’s one of those local idioms that doesn’t translate very well into languages like English (or at least, not without making our entire nation sound like a bunch of tribal CANNIBALS, straight out of one of those old ‘Popeye’ cartoons.)

Honestly, though. If that’s the sort of message the MTA intends to impart... why not just throw in an image of tourists being sowly ‘boiled alive’, in a cauldron on a beach somewhere... while vultures circle overhead; and hungry natives prepare for their village ‘feast’, in the background?

Let’s face it: it would at least be a little more honest. And besides: is it even possible that nobody at the MTA ever paused to consider the possibility that.... some of the tourists visiting Malta might actually get to see (if not hear) that particular slogan (it was on billboards too, you know), and, um, ‘ask the locals what it actually means’?

Because as far as I see: there is no realistic way of translating ‘Mit-turiżmu, jiekol kulhadd’ into English... without either:

a) sounding a little like ‘Hannibal Lecter’;

b) candidly admitting that we only ever view these things called ‘turisti’ -  including the one asking the question, by the way – literally as ‘fodder’, with which to nourish our own (increasingly greedy) aspirations of ‘wealth and prosperity’.

In other words: while the official English transation might be ‘Tourism Feeds Everybody’ – and that’s already problematic enough – we all know that what the slogan REALLY means, is...

...well, precisely what it says on the tin: ‘Everybody feeds on tourists’. In other words: “Everybody (but EVERYBODY) in this country, gets to somehow ‘feast’ off the 2.3 million-or-so-tourists who are naive enough to actually choose Malta as a holiday destination, each year: only to be shamelessly exploited, at practically every single stage of their presence...”

Not, perhaps, because we all actively ‘exploit’ those tourists ourselves, on a day-to-day basis... but rather, because our country’s economy has now come to DEPEND so very heavily on tourism, that it quite literally tanslates into the ‘daily bread-and-butter’, of our entire nation.

THAT, effectively, is what the MTA really intended to say, with that ill-advised slogan. And while we must concede that there is a small element of truth, to that statement – in the sense that ALL tourism industries, everywhere, exist only to ‘make money off tourists’ (and most tourists seem perfectly happy to go along with it, too) – a niggling little question remains.

Is it really wise, on the Malta Tourism Authority’s part, to advertise precisely THAT part of our national approach to tourism – i.e., the most mercenary, exploitative, and utterly indefensible aspect – as the hallmark of our country’s entire ‘tourism policy’?

I don’t think so, myself... partly because I feel that there are far better ways, to ‘sell Malta’s tourism industry to locals’ – like, um, reminding that us that we once had a reputation for being a ‘hospitable nation’ (before evolving into the species of ‘blood-sucking parasites’, that we seem to have become today) – but partly also for reasons that are now becoming acutely visible, just by opening the newspapers.

Here you’ll have to bear with me a while, because we are about to embark on short a tour of... well, not ‘all’, by a long shot; but at least ‘some’ of the tourism-related projects that are currently under way in Malta and Gozo.

This week, there were two separate news items, both published on the same day, detailing new applications for hotels to be either constructed, or extended,  in residential (i.e., ‘non-touristic’) areas.

The first – complete with artist’s impression - was about an extension to the existing hotel at the top of Rue D’Agens (Savoy, to be precise), where Sliema meets Gzira; and the second told us that “a planning application has been presented to transform a residential palazzo in Birkirkara’s urban conservation area in to a hotel housing 38 rooms”; sited right next to the Santa Liena church, in the central (older) part of town.

As it happens, I used to live round the corner from that same church myself, around 20 years ago; and I still visit the Wednesday flea-market, from time to time. As for Sliema, it was the town I was born and raised in... and I still live (almost) within view of Rue d’Argens, to this very day.

But while I am sorely tempted to chip in my own thoughts, on how both these hotels might impact the character, and ambience, of their respective localities – for what it’s worth: I think the Savoy extension might actually improve the current vista, if only slightly; while I find the Birkirkara hotel design to be utterly HIDEOUS, by any standard. ‘Nuff said – what truly troubles me, about this sort of project, is that...

... nobody seems to be questioning the national tourism strategy – or lack thereof - behind this sudden drive to flood the entire country with ‘little’, ‘large’, and sometimes ‘GARGANTUAN’ new hotels, and holiday apartments, almost everywhere you turn your gaze.

And much more beside: nobody seems to be considering – in spite of everything we’ve been through, in our ‘long, hot July’ – whether the country’s infrastructure can even SUSTAIN the amount of tourists we are now trying to ‘feed off’, in the first place.

Because those two examples represent just the tip of a rather enormous ice-berg (and, it must be said, we also seem to be steering our own version of the ‘Titanic’, directly into its path.)

Just to give you a small taster of what I mean: this is from a ‘Top 20’  list of recently-opened hotels in Malta, compiled by a website called ‘New Hotels Guide’. [Please note, however, that it only includes hotels of a certain standard; and I didn’t even bother mentioning any that have fewer than 20 rooms... of which there were at least six, mostly in Valletta].

> Palazzo Castagna Boutique Hotel, Ghaxaq (opened March 2023. 26 rooms)

> AC Hotel by Mariott, St Julian’s (opened March 2023. 125 rooms)

> Palazzo Ignazio, Valletta (opened June 2022. 30 rooms)

> Grand Suites Hotel Residences & Spa, Gzira (opened May 2022. 225 rooms)

> Land’s End, Sliema (opened November 2021. 78 rooms).

There are, of course, many more on that list... which, like I said, doesn’t even feature any of the ‘substandard’ holiday accommodation units, that are also going up as we speak.

And I need hardly add that it doesn’t include the 31-storey, multi-purpose ‘extravaganza’ of a hotel (actually, ‘two-hotels-rolled-into-one’) that has now been approved – but not yet built – slap-bang in the middle of Paceville’s already-oversaturated St George’s Bay.

Now: at the risk of repeating a small part of an article I wrote last week... all this new tourism development happens to be taking place, at a time when the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association itself is raising the alarm about the danger of an ‘oversupply’, in Malta’s hotel-accommodation capacity.

As long ago as September 2019 – i.e., before any of the aforementioned hotels were approved – MHRA president Tony Zahra himself had warned that: “There’s going to be overcapacity and everybody is just going to undercut each other”... even predicting a “bloodbath, if the industry were to continue growing as it presently is.”

Not only that: but three years later, the association published the results of its latest Deloitte report... which found that: “Malta will need to attract almost five million tourists a year [Note: our current figures are between 2.3 and 2.6 million] to ensure the sustainability of all existing and planned hotel bed stock.”

Got that, folks? Back in September 2022, the MHRA had predicted – on the basis of 2022 figures, naturally – that Malta would need to DOUBLE its annual tourism figures... just to be able to fill all the hotel-rooms that already existed, at the time; or were about to appear on the market.

Today, however? Those calculations need to be revised, to cater for the dozens – if not scores – of new hotels that have been built (or planned) over the past 12 months alone... as well as, of course, all the other dozens that will no doubt be built (or planned) in the near future.

Because... well, this is where we come back to that slogan: ‘Mit-turizmu, jiekol kullhadd’. Quite clearly, there is another thing the MTA didn’t pause to consider, when coming up with that phrase. How was it going to be interpreted by the tourism industry itself: not to mention, by budding entrepreneurs who might not be active in that particular field... YET?

Once again, the answer is: what it says on the tin. ‘Everybody feeds on tourism’, remember? That’s what tourists actually exist for, in the first place: to satiate our ever-growing gluttony, for more... and more... and MORE...

Can anyone be surprised, then, that we are currently building so many MORE new hotels, and hotel apartments, than we all know that this country can actually sustain, before ‘imploding’?

And will ‘surprise’ itself even be possible, at all... when the whole house of cards finally comes crashing down about our ears, as predicted, like the over-loaded stack of ‘Jenga-tiles’ that is so closely resembles?

I think not myself... but then, what the heck would I even know about ‘tourism’, anyway?