Elevating Malta’s reputation as holiday destination key to tourism boost

Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis and leaders in the tourism industry discussed the future of tourism during the Business Insider conference

Efforts should be made to elevate Malta’s reputation as a cheap destination by appealing to more high-net-worth travellers, said Corinthia Group Chairman Alfred Pisani. 
Pisani was addressing the Business Insider conference, entitled ‘Malta’s milestones in tourism - Time to up the game?’ which focused on the future of tourism in the island. 
Pisani said that Malta was a unique Mediterranean destination, in its history and values, however he felt that if the island’s value were stressed then the tourism industry would benefit. 

“We should give good quality and demand a higher rate,” he said, explaining that given such changes were a natural progression in light of the economic climate. 

“If we believe in our capability and maintain values in what we do, we will eventually and slowly improve,” he said.

Pisani’s IHI plc recently acquired the Island Hotels Group and is now planning on a massive six-star hotel redevelopment at St George’s Bay.

 Answering questions about whether such a move towards high-end tourism was possible, given the dominance of bottle bars and traffic in Paceville, Pisani said that a change could be achieved through better policing and high-end establishments.

“I am convinced we can have a cleaner Paceville through the control of the roads, aside from the actual physical area. I think this would be beneficial to the area itself.”

Tourism Minister Edward Zammit Lewis urged an association between the private and public sectors to ensure such a change for the better, as it would ultimately affect their businesses. 

“Many owners of entertainment establishments are now shifting to investments in accommodation and as such, cleaning up the area would be in their interest,” he said.

Zammit Lewis pointed out that in terms of numbers Malta had no issues but more could be done to target the shoulder months, despite seeing a recent and significant improvement.

“We have not reached full capacity during the summer months,” he said, pointing out that according to MTA data, capacity during the peak months in the south was at a mere 2% and that even Gozo faced seasonality issues. 

He said that the measure of success was not based solely on the number of arrivals but also on of expenditure.

Former Director of MTA Joseph Formosa Gauci concurred with the need to increase arrivals during the shoulder months. 

“Arrivals in October 2014 surpassed those of August 2007,” he explained, hoping that the trend would continue.

“The increase was a result of a number of factors including a rise in the conferences held, as well as a focus on festivals among others,” Formosa Gauci said. 

Formosa Gauci also pointed out that the aim should shift from building the right infrastructure to supporting increasing numbers, even given the World Tourism Organization estimation that Malta will have some 52,000 tourists every day by 2024.

Pisani added that a wide variety of tourists, from different economic backgrounds, was however still needed and that one of the ways to do this was to increase the number of airlines that fly to Malta. 

Addressing the issue of deteriorating visits at three-star hotels, Formosa Gauci said that if five-star rates focused on improving their numbers, then three-star hotels would consequently be able to attract more tourists, as they wouldn’t have to compete with four-  and five-star hotels dropping their rates. 

Zammit Lewis, however, countered that three-star hotels had to reinvent themselves to truly match their standards

The panel also discussed the issue of connectivity, which was something of a constant hurdle in the country.

“Only under 12% tourists in Malta hail from countries outside the EU. A direct connection to other countries like the US and China would be beneficial,” Zammit Lewis said, adding that the government was currently trying to secure a direct flight to China.

“Another way we could do this is to ensure better visibility and advertising in these far flung areas, as this would raise awareness and pique people’s curiosity about the country.”

Discussing the EFL market in the country, Philip Fenech, president of the tourism hospitality & leisure division within the GRTU, suggested that even this particular market could do with an upgrade. 

“We’ve all heard of the negative effects such boisterous students can have on some areas like Swieqi, so we could perhaps do with attracting higher market students,” he added, stressing that a boost in quality was needed throughout the sector. 

Pisani pointed out that better quality should however never come at the cost of a drop in diversification, but the key was better control and perhaps stricter consequences.