Sustainability and tourism

Last Updated on Thursday, 16 February, 2023 at 2:29 pm by Andre Camilleri

Last Monday the Ministry for Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority organised a conference to exhibit the results achieved in 2022 for the tourism industry. It transpired that last year the number of tourists who chose our islands reached a record figure of 2.3 million. Frankly, I am mentioning the word record, specifically because the figure was achieved over a shorter period of time relative to preceding years.

Last year’s figures translate into 83% of the total number of tourists that visited Malta in 2019 right before the spread of covid-19. Unquestionably, The United Kingdom remains the biggest market in terms of volumes. However, the 2022 figures surpassed those of 2019 for Polish, Italian, French and Austrian tourists. It shows that these are the highest number of tourists ever registered for these markets.

The minister for tourism, Mr. Clayton Bartolo delivered a speech explaining that such figures were achieved just right after the ease of the covid-19 restrictions, losing four months in 2022. Additionally, the minister explained that sustainability and tourism must coexist, and introducing sustainable practices within the industry is not a choice anymore but a must. Similarly, the CEO of the MTA, Mr. Carlo Micallef described that the success came through different business and marketing strategies, as well as the good quality product offered by the industry notwithstanding the cutthroat competition.

Clearly, the tourism industry is an important sector for the Maltese economy, and we must protect our heritage and the environment, so that visitors can get a taste of our unique culture. The CEO of MTA, Mr. Micallef highlighted the current opportunities and challenges within the tourism sector. In fact, in one of the slides, Mr. Micallef gave some tips to start transiting to a more sustainable industry. Studies are showing that customers are becoming more conscious of the environment due to climate change and the global environmental awareness campaigns, primarily pushed by the EU. Indeed, demand for eco-conscious accommodation, the usage of reusable items, choice of local food as well as zero food waste and energy conservation initiatives are on the rise. As I have already summarised in my preceding opinion pieces, the geopolitical tension, and the war, as well as inflation and anti-air travel lobbying are exerting additional pressure on the industry.

Later, a panel discussion consisting of the permanent secretary for tourism, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, the CEO of the MIA, the Deputy President of the Malta SME’s Chamber, as well as the CEO of the MHRA ensued. Sincerely, I appreciated the invitation to participate in this panel discussion, so as to deliver my economic insight relative to the challenges faced by the industry. Those on the panel explained that the tourism ministry encompasses multiple challenges within its remit. Indeed, the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce mentioned the importance that other ministries work closely with the tourism ministry, and that projects such as ‘Project Green’ are opportunities to cater for the creation of open green spaces, and thereby preserve the environment to offer visitors a unique taste of our culture. Likewise, the deputy president of the Malta SMEs Chamber mentioned the importance of open green spaces, and that the industry must keep on investing to enhance the already good quality product that Malta already offers.

During my intervention, I referred to the challenges that were presented by the CEO of the MTA, and how such challenges can be turned into opportunities, not least by investing and transiting to more sustainable practices, including energy efficient and sustainable buildings. Clearly, I referred to the climate hazards, officially designated by the ECB against the backdrop of the climate change occurrences. Indeed, heat stress as well as water stress are challenges that the southern Mediterranean countries will be facing in the coming years. Initiatives, and investments such as water catchments, and reusage of water, as well as renewable energy are quite important for the sustainability of the industry if we are to keep on increasing the figures.

Similarly, I mentioned other challenges, including the ambitious plan of the European Commission in relation to the Fit-for-55 package and the corresponding proposed carbon taxes. Undoubtedly, the CEO of the MIA summarised the challenges faced by airlines due to the proposed carbon taxes, whereby islands would have a competitive disadvantage due to the higher collection of carbon taxes per traveller. In essence, this will clearly inflate air tickets relative to other destinations and competitors who can choose to travel by car or train on mainland Europe.

Undoubtedly, we must all come together to reach the climate change targets, as well as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Truly, we must create a sustainable industry that thrives for future generations. Equally, the challenges are not only connected to the environment, but also to the social part including the shortage of skilled workers, and the challenge to upskill existing employees in the industry. Nevertheless, the ITS is investing to create additional spaces to accommodate more students within the industry, and this augurs well for the quality of the tourism product and service.

Personally, I think that the local councils also have an important role to play in identifying the challenges within the locality and they can clearly support the simplification to address such challenges.  Indeed, I fully concur with the Parliamentary Secretary for Local Councils Ms. Alison Zerafa Civelli, a former mayor, who in a recent interview, succinctly articulated the importance that local councils play when designing policies. Essentially, the mayors and the representatives of the local councils would have a better insight of the challenges that the residents and the industry face.

In my closing remarks, I referred to the comment of the CEO of the Chamber of Commerce, that of creating additional open green spaces similar to those found in other capital cities such as Brussels. The capital city of Europe is half the size of Malta in terms of territory. However, the open green spaces in Brussels are huge and connected to each other within walking distance. To put things into perspective, those working at Council, the European Commission, the EEAS, or the European Parliament, are blessed with the opportunity to choose proper open green spaces such as Parc Cinquantenaire, Parc Leopold, or Park de Bruxelles. The walking distance between Parc Cinquantenaire and Parc de Bruxelles is less than eighteen minutes, with Parc Leopold sitting in between.

Sadly, I cannot say the same for the Mrieħel area, where I spend most of my time during the week. Unless one is working in Valletta or Floriana, it is difficult to reach an open green space within walking distance in an urbanised area and connect for at least thirty minutes with nature. Nevertheless, I am eagerly looking forward to the ceremonies of the new open green spaces in Malta, so as like others, I avail myself of the opportunity to commute on foot and enjoy the nature, as much as we enjoy it when we travel abroad.

And to conclude, remember, that we do not inherit the environment from our ancestors, but we borrow it from our children.  

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