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Promoting eco- and agri-tourism

An agricultural landscape in the limits of Binġemma.

An agricultural landscape in the limits of Binġemma.

Merill Eco Tours, the first company in Malta fully dedicated to providing a range of eco- and agri-tourism services, recently marked the second anniversary of its launch by reaching an agreement with the owners of Ta’ Mena Estate in Marsalforn. The excellent reputation Ta’ Mena already enjoys convinced Merill to work in tandem with the enterprise and build upon its successes by promising to bring about a fresh outlook when it comes to eco- and agri-experiences.

If we just stop at sightseeing, the real stewards of our few remaining green areas would not benefit at all

Merill Eco Tours, spearheaded by agri-environment specialist Jeanette Borg, started off with a modest brochure featuring the rural villages of Dingli and Mellieħa.

Today, the original concept of ecotours has been incorporated within Merill Rural Network, an exclusive web of farming families and artisans across Malta and Gozo who strive to diversify their agricultural and artisanal products to provide genuine experiences to locals and tourists.

While the company’s services have evolved during the past months, its principles have remained the same. Merill organises experiences for small groups so as to respect the sensitive areas visited, and strives to leave a financial benefit wherever it operates.

Ms Borg explains that “whereas previously, agricultural land was merely appreciated for its produce, Merill is committed to provide a tangible economic income to specific rural areas and their owners. If we just stop at sightseeing, the real stewards of our few remaining green areas would not benefit at all. Even worse, if we conduct walking tours without directly involving the rural community, we would be disrupting rather than helping these areas.”

These notions have been clearly embedded in the company’s vision and mission throughout the past two years, as may be confirmed by a number of high-profile clients who have entrusted Merill with their business.

“We can never be at the forefront of this business by cutting corners. To offer a convincing service in such a cut-throat and demanding industry, one needs to be genuine down to the core,” Ms Borg affirms. “Of course, old ideas, resistance to change, unfair competition and highly bureaucratic institutions make our work that bit more challenging, but we remain motivated to continue pushing ahead,” she adds.

After establishing itself in Malta, Merill Rural Network is now set to expand to Gozo. Although Gozo may be seen as a natural destination when it comes to ecotours, the company first had to carry out a lot of groundwork in Malta.

Ta’ Mena Estate has undergone considerable investment to restore the landscape of the area and create an ideal venue for agri-experiences. Local products are produced at the estate in Marsalforn while the processing is carried out at an establishment in Xewkija. This decade-long investment by entrepreneur Joseph Spiteri and his family is a sign of their belief that the combination of agriculture and tourism are yet to be properly harnessed and moulded in the country’s future economic driving force.

Mr Spiteri guarantees the authenticity of his company’s products by applying traditional practices and by producing limited quantities of a range of culinary delights.

“Our passion for Gozo has driven us to invest and believe in what we do,” says Mr Spiteri. “It is not only the sun and sea that make Gozo special but also the tranquility, scenic beauty of the agricultural landscape and its delicious produce, and we must devote our energies so that these priceless attributes are conserved in the best ways possible.”

Ms Borg adds that “it is only through the adoption of sustainable measures that an ecotourism enterprise can move forward”. She also highlighted that the farmers and artisans in the Merill Rural Network are a precious resource and collaboration with them has been an opportunity to cater for all the services that the enterprise provides.

This latest synergy with Gozo farmers will bring about a better and more consolidated approach towards rural tourism services.

Several issues such as rural policy and planning, EU funding, marketing the rural aspects of the Maltese islands, setting standards and tackling unfair competition are being discussed with local authorities to improve upon the already existing efforts carried out by the authorities themselves and the enterprises concerned.

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