- Investment in Finland, Poland, US tourist markets registering results, India and China on the radar
- More airlines, more seats in Summer 2017
- Education partnerships with Emirates School of Hospitality and Haaga-Helia of Finland
- Aviation legislation to be updated to reflect current trends, develop aviation cluster
- Start-to-finish Malta shooting is next frontier for local film industry
- European tourism economies should collaborate, EU funds need to be made available
As the shoulder months period starts to fade away and Malta gears up for another spring and summer record Tourism Minister, Dr Edward Zammit Lewis sat down with MaltaProfile and outlined the plans that have been set in motion to up Malta's tourism game.
Where would you like to take tourism in the remainder of your legislature?
First of all, we have to maintain this momentum in regards to growth. In the first four years of this administration, we managed to have the same growth of eight years in the two previous administrations. We are determined to surpass the 2 million tourist arrivals in 2017.
Secondly, we will be focusing on more investment in human capital because our investment today is not matching the growth of the industries. We will be investing €60 million in the Institute for Tourism Studies at Smart City.
A third goal is our product. I believe that we must focus more on product Malta: a more organised Malta, a more embellished Malta, a cleaner Malta. We believe that quality is important because it will give us more revenue and better conditions to our workers in the industry. Furthermore, we need to continue branding Malta as a safe and secure destination.
A fourth objective is addressing seasonality. In the first four months of 2016, we have managed to register an average double digit growth which is helping to curb seasonality and we need to continue improving results.
I believe that we must focus on product Malta: a more organised Malta, a more embellished Malta, a cleaner Malta
What markets are you targeting for the sector’s expansion?
Our priority as a small country will remain to European markets because they provide immediate results. So, with the right marketing and with the right air connectivity one achieves results within months. We have also diversified to markets such as Finland and Poland which is already giving us results. Long haul markets are another a priority. We took a conscious decision to open a small office in New York and in the last three years, although in a small manner, the numbers from the United States have increased. There are other important countries such as India and China. We're making concrete efforts with regards to the latter. This year we will be bringing some 10,000 tourists directly from China. Obviously, they are big and difficult markets. They are markets which do not look at Malta specifically but who offer European packages. So we are concentrating on integrated itineraries which include other European destinations and Malta.
What about new airlines?
Air connectivity is fundamental. It’s simple: More airlines give you more seats, more tourists. We increase capacity winter after winter, summer after summer. We work on it practically every day. I had the opportunity in the last two years to visit countries which want to develop tourism. My suggestion to them has always been to liberalise the airline industry. You cannot have tourism only with a national airline. You cannot get the numbers. Presently, at its peak, Malta International Airport operates to 94 airports all within Europe. We have already guaranteed more seats for this winter and we will have more airlines and more seats in the next summer.
Today the sector also relies on niche tourism. How do you plan to give prominence to the different strands?
Niche markets which have already given us good results are diving, marriage and LGBT. Diving is giving us direct results and we must guarantee a satisfactory amount of safety in the operation of diving. Regarding LGBT tourism one must remember that Malta is starting to be perceived as a place for LGBT tourism only recently. This is a direct result of the advances in civil liberty laws. There is medical tourism, which is not an easy market but it is on our radar as a medium to long term objective.
Culture tourism is reaping results. We are determined to develop Valletta into a different tourism product as a destination wherein it will be bringing a bigger volume of tourists in winter as it's totally different to the usual Malta-offer of sun and sea. Sports tourism is also an area of interest We have already hosted football training camps and we wish to develop this segment further.
THE NEXT LEVEL OF SERVICE: Malta will be upping its game in tourism training note just through a new campus but also through infusing the local hospitality culture with global expertise
You highlighted the need to invest in human resources. What is the actual plan?
We are entering partnerships with very important names in the field of tourism and hospitality education. I can mention two of them. They are the Haaga-Helia of Finland and the Emirates School of Hospitality of Dubai. The latter has a relationship with the hospitality school in Switzerland. We will not only create a new institute with state-of-the-art facilities but also get more international expertise to our country.
We are entering partnerships with the Haaga-Helia of Finland and the Emirates School of Hospitality of Dubai
We know that the partnership talks with Alitalia have now broken down. What can you say about the present and future?
We are keeping the company going, which is not easy in such a cutthroat environment. Finally, we need the right strategic partner with whom we can map a future route to sustainability. We need someone who gives us relevance, who will help us in the changes we need to do and who will help us access systems used by bigger airlines: be it IT systems, procurement systems, internet systems.
What are your plans and priorities for the private jet industry?
The private jet industry is doing well when it comes to the registration of aircraft but I believe that we didn't manage to tap the full potential of the aviation industry as yet. There are many services we aren’t providing and which are being lost to other countries, be it aircraft leasing or aircraft finance. My vision for the sector is to create an aviation cluster. There are many new areas we can develop. For example, long-term leasing. There are different trends wherein the aircraft is not leased in its entirety. You can, for example, lease only the engines. We want an updated and flexible law that can cater for these new practices and attract more business.
A YEAR ROUND INDUSTRY: Investment in the water-tank filming facilities will attract more start-to-finish movie productions to Malta (Photo: Filming of Game of Thrones in Gozo, Malta)
The film industry. What is the next step here?
Last year, we have managed to make indirect revenue of around €110 million from the film industry, an income that took six years to reach in the past. We have managed to do a lot with the facilities at Rinella but it's quite clear that we need further investment. Our vision is that we conclude as soon as possible the request for proposals for the Rinella water-tank filming facilities. This will guarantee a different level playing field and will be readily available for potential customers. This will make it easier to attract complete film shootings as opposed to partly filming a movie in Malta. It will help us combat the downside of having a sporadic film industry where will have a high budget for three months and quieter stretches. We don't want that model. We want a more consistent model, which can help our youths to create a stable career around these industries.
What are your thoughts about tourism and the Malta EU Council Presidency keeping in mind that your portfolio is not a key EU competence?
The industries under my portfolio are either exclusive national competencies or shared competence of the EU. So we don't have a lot of interplay with EU institutions. However, I don't believe that tourism is appreciated in a sufficient manner by the European Union. If you see the countries which face the most financial and economic difficulties, tourism was always there, tourism was the most resilient sector of all and tourism created jobs and generated revenue.
I believe that the European Union should acknowledge this point. It should try to enhance cooperation between different member states. European states should not be competing against each other but rather seize opportunities together.
Regions such as Asia are attracting European tourism. Through a more collaborative European approach, we can not only attract tourism from within our borders but also tourism from outside of Europe. If the European Union wishes to the be number one destination globally, there is a lot of work to be done.
The second point is funding. I want to see more EU funding, specifically for tourism. Our non-EU competitors are increasingly taking a bigger market share from the total amount of international tourism, while Europe, a beautiful place with a big cultural heritage, is trailing behind when we could increase our market share through such funding.
RESILIENT: Zammit Lewis stresses that tourism was the most resilient sector of all during financial downturns in Southern Europe and that the EU needs to invest more direct funds to strengthen the sector
Looking to the future, how do you see the industry developing?
I would like to see more professional workers in the industry and more investment in human capital. I want to see a Paceville master plan implemented because we need to work within a framework, within a vision of a more organised Malta. I want Malta to be a finer destination and to attract the type of tourism which we see in London and Nice, in New York and in Paris.