Editorial: The sustainability of the tourism industry

Young woman tourist portrait on vacation in Valletta Malta

Last Updated on Saturday, 24 February, 2024 at 12:17 pm by Andre Camilleri

Tourism has been one of the mainstays of Malta’s economy for decades.

Post-Independence, the industry grew steadily over the years as more hotels were built and connections with other countries improved, offering visitors pleasant stays in comfortable surroundings while the country as a whole – with its history, entertainment and safety – gave them memorable experiences.

We know how volatile the industry is, and how competition is cut-throat. Tourism needs to be nurtured and taken good care of. When, in the beginning of 2020, like many other countries Malta was severely hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, the first industry to suffer was tourism, as airports were closed, people were not allowed to travel and everyone stayed at home.

It was a big blow to the industry, but Malta’s potential as a destination emerged again as soon as the crisis was over. It did not take much for tourism to recover. After the crisis years of 2020-2022, the first full year without restrictions has seen Malta achieve a record number of visitors. Figures published last week show that, including the number of tourists who stayed overnight on board cruises, arrivals topped three million.

It was the first time that Malta obtained such a result. The number of nights spent in Malta by tourists also climbed up, as did their expenditure.

As things stand now, it is clear that the industry has recovered well from the Covid-19 setback. The question that needs to be asked is how these results can be maintained, if they can be improved, and what is the saturation point.

Tourists who visit Malta bring in money to spend, but this comes at a cost too, in particular to the infrastructure. Tourists need to be taken from one place to another, adding a burden to our roads and traffic; they need power and water, increasing the pressure on our limited resources; and also have an impact on our already fragile environment. Added to all this, their presence here means more overcrowding on an already over-populated small piece of land.

These are all factors that need to be taken into consideration. Should we simply be happy that more and more tourists visit the island, or should we try to go for fewer arrivals but of people with more spending power? Is the next target reaching 4 million arrivals, or would it be better to sustain what we have and try to limit the negative effects? Is what we have enough to deal with the influx, or are we heading towards more chaos and confusion as we go for bigger numbers?

And, added to all this, do we still see Malta as a quaint, idyllic place of relaxation, or has it lost its charm as a quiet destination, meaning that sooner or later tourists will be looking for other less stressful places to spend their holiday money?

We must not let down our guard and be blinded by the success of the industry.

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