The MTA should have real authority
The following is a very brief synopsis of what, in my opinion, should be done to revive the tourism industry.
What the Ministry of Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority have done, and done very slowly, is to start applying their solutions from the end rather than from the beginning.
The beginning is to solve our basics now, and the necessary embellishments can then follow after stabilisation has occurred.
As I have said many times before, the MTA should be exactly that. A real authority over all things related to the continual success and protection of our very important tourism industry. They should have the final say on all matters related to tourism in Malta and Gozo. Without someone, or some entity having this authority, you will always get the mess we have seen in the past, and are still presently witnessing.
The two main priorities are, firstly, the methods of bringing tourists to our islands, and, secondly, their enjoyment of our product when they stay here.
Times are changing so rapidly in this world of ours and we have to change with them.
For years we have had to depend on tour operators to bring tourists to our islands. Over the years they have squeezed our hotels dry, and then asked for subsidies from, first, the then National Tourism Organisation of Malta (NTOM) and, then, the MTA. Our product was obviously so poor that tourists had to be almost pushed to come to Malta. Our product continued to deteriorate, as less money was available for hotels to upgrade. Quality in most places became very sub-standard indeed.
Some tour operators are now deciding to leave us completely.
The future has suddenly become low-cost airlines. Tourists can come and go as they please, at whatever fare they can negotiate. They are free to do so, and they are taking advantage of this fact in a very big way. Malta has to negotiate a deal with these low-cost airlines fast, with conditions that benefit Malta and its tourism industry, and allow Air Malta to compete, but not at conditions that give no or little incentive for them to come to Malta in the first place.
When I was chairman of the MTA's Product Planning Directorate, I suggested that we select 28 tourist priority areas, and make, and keep, these areas really first class so that the tourists that come to Malta see around them the very best we can offer.
I have just returned from Stratford-upon-Avon in England, and this lovely place was full of quality tourists. I checked, and apart from the three or four main streets, and the river area, the rest of the town was just a normal simple ordinary English town. The main tourist areas however were excellent. The old buildings, including Shakespeare's birthplace, were beautifully maintained, along with their immediate surroundings.
My lasting impression of Stratford-upon-Avon is of a beautiful, clean old English town, full of charm and character. Would I go again? Yes? Would I recommend it to others? Yes?
We can do the same in Malta. Select areas in Malta where tourists frequent, and make these areas the very best we can, and keep them that way. All through the control of the MTA.
This will cost money, a lot of money, but it would be infinitely better to spend the money now, to get our product right now than do it in dribs and drabs over years and years, and see our tourists gradually go to other places who have made a better effort than us.
Raise the money now. Do the job now. Hotels in Malta need the assistance of the authorities to help them get the tourists to really enjoy their stay in Malta.
There are 101 other things that have to be tackled now, not later. We are already seeing what damage; waiting to do things later, does to the tourism industry.
Our internal tourist transportation system, both on sea and on land, must be reorganised. The craft village must be upgraded. Education in our schools must have an emphasis on the need to keep the country clean, and giving a service to visitors. The police should do their jobs and really control tourist sensitive areas, price control-wise and behaviour-wise, so that they are all very acceptable both to visitors and to locals, and will remain this way forever. We must all concentrate on keeping all the visitors to our islands very happy and satisfied.
If we don't do this, then we have no right being in the tourism business in the first place.
Tourism offices should be reopened in all major tourist catchments areas. We should never leave Malta's tourism in the hands of foreigners in foreign countries, without Maltese being there to take an active and very important interest in selling the island. With today's technology, meeting between all the offices can take place on a daily basis through conference calling on the internet so that each office feels part of the group and not isolated.
In London, the Air Malta office and the MTA offices should be brought back to Piccadilly. We have to have our main offices in a very good area. Putney is way out of the way and does not give the correct impression of a progressive tourism industry and a national airline.
Branding and marketing and advertising Malta can follow the same route but, first, get people here, and prepare and embellish Malta and Gozo so that they will like what they see when they arrive, and enjoy the service they receive.
Let us make the correct decisions when we need to, and let them be made quickly by people who have the authority to make things happen.
Let us stop pretending we are doing the right thing. We are not, and it is now very apparent from the latest tourism figures that we are doing the complete opposite.
Tourism is so sensitive. You are dealing with people. People are very sensitive. Do things wrong and it will backfire upon everybody. And we have done, and are still doing, so many things that are backfiring on us. We are still doing so many things that are wrong.