Reinventing the tourism model

This year, the tourism industry has engaged in some much-needed soul searching about its prospects.

The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) was the first to publish its strategy document entitled Recover, Rethink, Revitalise. This was followed by a Gozo Regional Development Authority strategic document entitled A Shared Vision for Gozo, which defines the island’s development priorities for the next 10 years, emphasising tourism. The Malta Chamber has now published its views on the future of the tourism industry in a 96-page document entitled Rediscover: A Renewed Vision for Malta’s Tourism Industry.

COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerability of the tourism industry. Over the last two years, the number of visitors has plummeted from the high levels achieved in 2019. While European tourism is now slowly recovering, informed industry strategists believe that the dynamics of mass tourism will continue to undergo substantial changes.

Of the recent documents, the chamber’s, compiled following in-depth research and consultation with the main stakeholders in the industry, is the most informative for policymakers.

This is because it acknowledges the significant challenges that the industry will face in the coming years. Unlike the MTA, the Chamber recognises the risks of over-tourism. While most stakeholders argue that we need to focus on quality rather than quantity, this often stops at being just a pious aspiration.

Rediscover analyses the strategies that various European destinations are defining to reinvent their tourism industry. The comparative analysis made by consultants of Seed, who assisted the chamber in the compilation of this report, provides valuable indications on how the tourism policymakers should be planning to make the local tourism industry more sustainable.

The growth of private rented and non-rented accommodation has added to the momentum of low-cost travel in boosting the number of visitors. Today, nearly half of the tourists who visit the islands do not stay in hotels. That trend is here to stay, as visitors increasingly seek out more private, unusual, authentic or cheaper ways to experience foreign countries.

This reality raises the question of the viability of investing in even more hotel capacity. And the question becomes even more pertinent in the context of the already evident overcrowding at tourist hotspots experienced in the last few years.

The emphasis on improving hotel and private accommodation standards and other tourist-related services is rightly given importance in the chamber’s document. Lack of enforcement of reasonable standards is one of the reasons behind the mediocre perception that many visitors have of the island.

Rediscover is less convincing when it argues that the industry will forever be dependent on imported low-cost labour. Admittedly, the chamber does recommend that the local wages of those employed in the sector should be improved. Still, it expects this to be done through fiscal measures in the form of reduced VAT on tourist services financed by taxpayers.

The role of the MTA comes under deserving scrutiny in the chamber’s document. It argues that the tourism authority should “reposition its role as a regulator which enforces licensing standards and promotes best practices, as opposed to its current perceived status as a competitor with the private sector”.

In attempting to address the negative impact of over-tourism, tourist destinations like Venice, Amsterdam, Barcelona and Croatia all put the interests of local communities at the centre of their strategic planning. All three tourism strategic documents published this year skim over the impact of the tourism industry on the community. While the economic contribution of tourism is crucially important, the toll taken on the community in terms of social costs must never be overlooked.

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Source: Einnews

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