2013: 1.5 million tourist milestone to be achieved
Early this year, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) predicted that summer 2013 would be 'the perfect summer' in terms of tourist arrivals, and according to figures released by the National Statistics Office, showing an increase of 11.6 per cent of departing tourists in June and 4.2 per cent in July, it would appear they were right. Sarah Micallef finds out more.
Indeed, as MHRA President Tony Zahra maintains, “Malta is experiencing near double digit growths month over month over the same period last year. We expect to end the year with an incredible 1.5 million arrivals, which will be 100,000 more arrivals than in 2012. Given that Malta has had four years where each year broke records beating the previous years, it is no mean feat to achieve this growth this year.
Malta Tourism Authority CEO Josef Formosa Gauci agrees, stating “all indications are that this will be a summer that will go down in the record books. All basic performance indicators are positive, with actual departures, overnights and expenditure all up on last year. Our tourism performance has been positive from all markets of significance and all segments are reporting growth.”
Asked about what has been done on the part of Maltese hoteliers and restaurateurs to promote tourism this past summer season, Mr Zahra explains that people within the industry realise that it is important to invest in their product if they want to remain competitive. “We are no doubt witnessing a continuous renewal of the product, and those organisations that are investing are seeing a return whereas those that are not are losing ground.”
Similarly, the MTA, according to Mr Formosa Gauci, has worked hard on the three main pillars of its tourism strategy: aviation, marketing and product development. “On the accessibility front, we not only ensured that our existing markets had adequate airline seat capacity, but also managed to attract a number of new routes and extended services on existing routes. We have meanwhile ensured that our marketing presence extends to stimulate demand in all our markets by featuring a mix of traditional print and outdoor advertising options, together with a range of digital media to address all segments of potential visitors. On the product front, besides all the ongoing works and the completion of a number of EU-funded projects, our biggest efforts during the peak summer months concentrated on beach management and providing assistance in resort management, particularly through improved waste management.”
Indeed, all things considered, there is still room for improvement. As Mr Formosa Gauci suggests, certain aspects of the infrastructure need to be further improved to reach the levels which visiting tourists are accustomed to in their countries of residence. “We also need to offer a more consistent level of service, as the feedback we receive suggests that there is still a wide gap in the consistency of service delivery. Tourism today is also about value for money and satisfied customers.”
Moreover, as a spokesperson from San Giuliano Restaurants asserts, despite receiving similar or higher quantities of tourists across their restaurants than in previous years, they have largely been of a lesser quality – the majority with far less spending power. She argues that “attracting a better quality of tourist is hard given the current economic climate, but Malta can do so by offering a better brand of tourism in the form of a five-star experience. Emphasis also needs to be placed on cleanliness. One thing leads to the other – you have to spend more to get a better quality of service.”
Paul Bugeja, CFO of Corinthia Hotels International Ltd comments that “cleanliness is one of the top priorities. I also think that quality and hospitality is important, and is what everyone wants to experience when they come to Malta. Despite being known for it, hospitality does not currently appear to be at the top of the agenda across the board.”
Another aspect Mr Bugeja emphasises is product knowledge in relation to the Maltese islands. “Everyone, and not just people within the industry, should know a little more about Malta. Each tourist is a potential PR agent, and if we know more about Product Malta, we would be able to offer that little bit extra.” Lastly, he maintains that we should not forget to promote Gozo. “For some, Gozo is just a day trip, but I think a Gozo experience makes a visit to Malta more holistic.”
As for the MHRA, Mr Zahra maintains that the next target must be to have arrivals increase in the winter in order to have an equal number of arrivals each month. “This is, of course, a big ask,” he asserts, “however we believe that with a strategic plan for weekly activities targeted toward various markets we can achieve this objective. It's been done elsewhere, so we don't need to reinvent the wheel. We also need to put targeted investments into this area. This will be of tremendous benefit to the industry and increase revenues substantially for employers, employees and the government alike.” Indeed, as Mr Zahra explains, increased numbers of arrivals increase spending in Malta, calculating that “this year government revenue will increase by circa €45 million in VAT revenues only.”
With the peak season behind us, attention now shifts to the slower, winter season. Mr Zahra is optimistic about the coming months, stating that the MHRA already foresees a record number of arrivals this coming winter. On the part of the MTA, Mr Formosa Gauci affirms, “we have ensured that there is adequate airline seat capacity for the winter months and will be working with our partners to maximise our off-season performance. As was the case in summer, we are building on a number of good past-winters, so our objective is to maintain our gains and build on them further. Our medium term objective is to uplift winter from a break-even period for our tourism service providers into one during which at least a marginal profit is registered.”