If Comino and Mdina feel crowded, a study has just given us the numbers to prove it

Malta will need to attract five million tourists to ensure existing and planned hotels are sustainable but how will this accelerated growth impact an already overcrowded country?

Mdina is under siege from the number of tourist visitors, which will only get worse if numbers jump up to 4.7 million in the coming years
Mdina is under siege from the number of tourist visitors, which will only get worse if numbers jump up to 4.7 million in the coming years

People visiting Comino beaches in August will have to contend with a patch that is 70cm long and 70cm wide if tourism arrivals double in the coming years.

Overcrowding on Comino’s limited beaches may not come as a surprise but the numbers outlined in a tourism capacity study are shocking.

People sunbathing in Comino were already lying down less than 1m from each other in 2019 and this will further decrease over the coming years if tourist arrivals shoot up to 4.7 million.

A similar picture of intense overcrowding, even if less dramatic than Comino, will be experienced at Għadira beach, Golden Bay and Ramla Bay in Gozo.

The figures come from a study called ‘Carrying Capacity Study for Tourism in the Maltese islands’ commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) and conducted by Deloitte, an audit and financial advisory firm. The findings were released on Thursday morning.

The exercise showed that with the expected increase of hotel beds over the next five to six years, based on approved planning applications or some that are in the process of being green-lit, Malta will have to attract 4.7 million tourists a year to ensure hotels enjoy the same record occupancy they had in 2019.

This means that to remain sustainable, hotels will need to attract double the number of tourists they attracted in 2019, with all the repercussions this will have on the country’s infrastructure.

And overcrowding in tourist hotspots is one such repercussion, the study notes.

The historical walled town of Mdina will further lose the silence it is famed for with just 8sq.m per visitor, down from the already crowded 13sq.m per visitor in 2019.

Valletta, Victoria and the Three Cities will also face significant overcrowding, albeit less serious than Mdina.

Other urban areas popular with tourists like Sliema, St Julian’s and Marsaxlokk will also face significant pressure from overcrowding.

The study says that to support further growth in tourism numbers in a sustainable manner, visitor controls may be required for some of the key hotspots.

Read the full report below:


But the challenges that almost five million tourists will create are not limited to overcrowding. The study also shows serious challenges to the country’s infrastructure such as the sewage system.

Findings show that the sewage network is operating “vastly beyond designed capacity” in certain key tourism areas. This is leading to sewage seeping into the sea.

The sewage system is already operating beyond designed capacity in certain key tourism areas, leading to spills into the sea
The sewage system is already operating beyond designed capacity in certain key tourism areas, leading to spills into the sea

“Stakeholders, including the Water Services Corporation, explained that already in 2019, sewage seepage into the sea occurred in certain areas due to infrastructural capacity issues,” the study authors said.

Additionally, labour force limitations hamper and condition tourism growth. The findings show that the number of Maltese workers in the industry dropped from almost 8,000 in 2010 to 6,000 in 2019. In 2019, just 40% of workers in tourism were Maltese.

This also creates challenges because it reduces the authenticity of the tourism product and adds to the infrastructural pressures as a result of resident population increase.

Traffic, littering, waste management, poor urban environment through overdevelopment and uglification, and the inability to maintain cleanliness were also noted as key challenges.

Crucially, the study also found waning enthusiasm from residents living in tourism hotspots.

Among the key recommendations made by the report authors are to moderate supply growth and align it to product development. They also call for increased distribution of tourism activity to relieve pressure on key areas, while improving management of tourism hotspots.

They also call for regulation overhaul to allow a push for quality, while rationalising growth.

The findings put into numbers the general perceptions associated with the impact of tourism on Malta’s towns, infrastructure and environment.

Deloitte financial advisory leader Raphael Aloisio said that attracting more than four million tourists to Malta is no easy feat but addressing all the challenges this will bring with it is “equally difficult”.

“The challenges will increase. We are not saying stop growth but we need to do it more sensibly and cannot simply expand blankly. There are repercussions for every project; there are pressures on key areas; and there are bursting points in certain situations and unless we address these challenges brought about by accelerated growth there are going to be repercussions,” he said.

The repercussions, Aloisio warned, will be felt by people putting investment in excess supply and the country at large.

“Simply increasing supply is only the first part of the equation. Making sure it is sustainable for investors and the country is more important,” he added.

Another word of warning came from the floor of the conference by hotelier Ian Decesare, who said that hosting almost five million tourists will simply render the island a two-star destination because of the pressures this will cause on basic infrastructure, beaches and other tourism attractions.

Aloisio explained that the study was intended to provide a snapshot of the current and future situation. “It is not intended to propose solutions but it is only the first step in a needed discussion to ensure the right balance is achieved not just for the tourism sector but also the country,” he said.

How to solve overcrowding, pressure on infrastructure, social disruption and the myriad of repercussions five million tourists will create is a discussion for another time.