Price, product and pride in tourism
This has nothing to do with PR but a lot with sheer hard work and value for money. Unless the product is what it should be; unless we all are proud of it to the extent that we do our utmost to look after it and, of course, unless the price is right, the tourism industry is unlikely to continue performing as well as the Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism, Mario de Marco, reported it as doing.
Dr de Marco had good news to report when he spoke in Parliament last week after moving the estimates of the Malta Tourism Authority. Hotels were nearing the break-even ratio. Over the past 19 months the tourism industry was making constant progress. Growth in the first four months of this year stood at 15 per cent. The 1.24 million tourists who visited Malta last year spent €1.58 billion, or six per cent more than in the previous year. And the return on investment was unprecedented: tourists spent over €81.53 (Lm35) for every €2.33 (Lm1) invested.
These positive trends were also reflected in the regular BOV-MHRA survey and, again, in data issued by the National Statistics Office on Friday.
Against this background, it was somewhat perplexing to hear the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association pour cold water on the positive results emanating from the BOV-MHRA survey. Of course, it is always wise to be cautious when dealing with an industry as volatile as tourism. But credit, and encouragement, must be given where due especially when one bears in mind the poor performance of the industry just a few months back, the rising fuel and food prices and the economic crunch that is affecting a number of countries, including some that are among Malta's main tourism markets.
The positive performance did not come about just by luck. True, low-cost carriers have contributed to boosting the number of arrivals. But they could have had serious repercussions on the national carrier had the company not resolved to turn a challenge into an opportunity. Indeed, Dr de Marco told Parliament that Air Malta managed to increase the number of passengers it carried by 45.8 per cent.
Air Malta is evidently looking at avenues that will give it exposure, muscle and, thus, guarantee more filling of seats. Take its recent agreement with Turkish Airlines which gives it the potential of 140 destinations as of this summer. Turkish Airlines is a member of the huge Star Alliance, as indeed is Lufthansa with which Air Malta also works very closely. Air Malta is putting its money where its mouth is.
And that too is what the country must do. As Dr de Marco had occasion to point out lately, the key to future success in tourism is competitiveness. Product Malta must sell and to sell - it bears repeating - it must have the right ingredients, be effectively marketed and then retain standards throughout, including good value for money. Alas, prices and product still leave a lot to be desired.
It is on these areas that Dr de Marco is known to be focusing and he deserves all the help he can get, mainly from stakeholders but also from all the inhabitants of this tiny island.
There is no need to continue considering Malta as the Mediterranean's best-kept secret.