Higher standards would help tourism sector to grow, says Tourism institute director

Although Malta’s tourism industry has grown vastly over the last 20 years, there is still room for improvement, Mark Ransley, managing director of EEC-ITIS Malta, tells MaltaProfile.

EEC-ITIS Malta is committed to advanced education and training in the tourism industry. Education is delivered through a variety of means in order to encourage and develop creativity and learning. ITIS aims to provide every student with the best possible opportunity to acquire relevant up-to-date knowledge of the subject area of International Tourism Management and to develop skills appropriate to his or her present and likely future needs. Offering a wide range of diplomas, certificates and degrees in International Tourism Management, EEC-ITIS also offers English language courses. EEC-ITIS Malta is an accredited member of the association of the IMI University Centre Switzerland Partner Schools and its programmes are also validated and awarded by other universities such as Manchester Metropolitan University.

Can you give us an overview of EEC-ITIS Malta Tourism and Languages Institute and its key milestones?

Since I began my career in Tourism, I have worked in all areas of incoming tourism, from travel agents, to aviation, and hotels. I also worked in one of the very first  EFL English language schools in Malta, which inspired me to open my own. With regard to the tourism Institute, I was in contact with an associate in Russia, who was in charge of the Maltese authority in Moscow. Together, we spawned the idea  of establishing a tourism institute in Malta for international students. Hence, EEC-ITIS, formally known as ITIS Malta Tourism Institute, was born. We wanted to form an Institute where students can gain a lot more than just a certificate, but a wealth of knowledge and skills that can be implemented in their future profession as well. We therefore succeeded to affiliate our Institute with a well-known Swiss Institute. The Swiss institute was initially split into two: ITIS that focused on management, and  IMI that focused on hospitality, but later merged into one. Our Institute has continued to grow ever since, also resulting in the broadening of a range of qualifications that we offer. At present, we offer Malta Qualification Framework (MQF) and European Qualification Framework (EQF) levels one to five.

What would you consider as your key area of expertise?

We want to continue to grow and keep improving the quality of the education we provide. At the same time, the size of our classes will remain small, with a maximum of 12 students. We prefer smaller classes so that tutors can support students and respond to their needs as much as possible. Education is about asking questions, and it is important to us that students can feel comfortable enough to ask tutors things. On the opposite end, it is equally important that tutors can monitor exactly every student’s progress easily. This personal approach and the high quality of our programmes give us a competitive edge over other institutes in Malta. We have modern schools with the highest quality equipment. Although our main focus is on our academic programmes we also organise activities outside the classroom including trips, excursions and leisure activities, as well as visits to hotels so that students gain first-hand experience of major tourism related operations.  

Does ITIS Malta attract more international or Maltese students?

Our students are mostly international, coming from Russia, Italy, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and even as far as China and Japan. We would like more Maltese students to join us, but at the minute there are very few. The main reason is that higher education in Malta is free, and some even get a scholarship from the government to further their studies. EEC-ITIS is a privately owned institution, and therefore students pay to study here. However, in winter 2015-2016, we plan to offer different units that will welcome Maltese students to join, who will be able to study only those units they are interested in. In my opinion, everyone, no matter what sector they choose to work in, should be qualified. For example, being a waiter is not just a part-time job that you do during your free time or during your studies. Being a waiter is a profession, and so every role in the tourism industry is a profession. That is the message I want to get through. In order for this to work, hotels and restaurant management need to take serious control of the situation. Unfortunately, at the moment, tourism is just cheap labour. Consequently, some hotels are not doing so well due to lack of professional staff, and it is important to bear in mind that this could compromise their future. As a result, I would like the Maltese workforce to receive more training, more understanding and to keep up to date with the latest trends.

Despite the availability of graduates from the Institute of Tourism Studies and the University of Malta, hotels and restaurants report problems with recruitment and retention of employees. What do you think could be done to attract more young people to work in the tourism industry in Malta?

This is a problem, because a lot of people come to Malta and work for a cheaper rate, especially from countries with lower economic infrastructure. On the other hand I think that higher salaries would definitely attract more people in certain areas of the industry. We have to continue to be competitive with regards to the quality of service hotels and restaurants offer. Generally, wages in Malta are not the highest in Europe, however they are not as low as Bulgaria’s for example. That being said, low wages will affect the sector. This becomes evident when one stays at a low budget hotel, generally the staff are unqualified and underpaid, and don’t provide a good enough service. If a hotel is serious and has good quality management, they will look for quality staff, not the cheapest. Of course, if a hotel pays less, it is more profitable for the shareholders, but that is not a professional approach. There needs to be a balance between quality and profitability. Five star hotels don’t have these problems, and so we want to change the face of hotel management where it is needed. It is a fact however that many Maltese, even those that have completed their studies at the local Institute of Tourism Studies, are not willing to work under certain conditions, such as for example, weekends and night shifts. This is a problem for many hoteliers and some are forced to employ foreigners even without any qualifications or experience.  

What are your future plans for EEC-ITIS Malta?

I am working on the advancement of our diploma to level 6. Hopefully, international universities will accept it as a step towards a master’s degree. We are also working on introducing a master’s degree programme, but that would have to be through universities overseas. I am already in contact with other universities, so this is still a work in progress. We are changing the system within which we are working. We always aim to improve, and I think that we are going to have a stable and bright future. We have very good prices for European students, and now we are also spending more money on advertising. We’re not a big institute, and we don’t plan to become one, instead we focus on quality. We support every student to ensure their successful completion of their course, and we are very proud of them. We make it a point that when they go on to do their BA or Masters, they are capable of obtaining first class degrees.

Now, the tourism industry employs around 20,500 people and accounts for some 25% of Malta’s GDP, being the most important single industry in Malta. What are your expectations for Malta’s tourism in the next few years?

My expectations are quite high. There have been huge changes within the last 20 years in Malta, yet there is still great potential for a sustainable tourism sector to grow. We need to adapt and take the standards higher. Hotels and restaurants have already improved a lot. Now, the streets and transport need to do the same. It is expensive to fix these things, but they need to be done. It has to seriously be part of the government programme, budget and expenditure to improve the road quality and maintain foliage amongst other things. Transport links are a problem, they are expensive and the service is not good enough. Malta has fantastic history. We have temples, caves, museums and historical sites. I feel more people need to know about these things, so we need to put Malta forward as a unique brand. Although many people from across the world visit each year, we need to keep promoting what we have here and continue to grow. Professional bodies/associations such MHRA and importantly MAHE need to be consulted regularly by the Government since together they represent all the stakeholders of this industry. 

Mark Ransley graduated as a senior Accounting Technician UK in 1984 and obtained a Master’s of Science in International Hospitality and Tourism Management at the Edinburgh Napier University of Scotland UK in 2013.  He started his career as an accountant of a leading incoming travel agent in 1975. Mark has managed a hotel and a restaurant from 1989 to 1991.  He was appointed Financial Controller, and later Director of a language school from 1991 to 1996. From 1996 to 1997, he was the general manager of the incoming department of an airline handling company. In 1999, he established his own language school and in 2003 he also established a tourism institute. He has published various tourism related papers and had been involved in EU projects as well as acted as a researcher both for international and local projects.



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