Mediterranean mystique

Malta has rapidly developed a tourism signature for itself

THE Malta Tourism Authority has embarked on a branding exercise to position the Mediterranean heaven as a hospitable historic destination of much diversity on the global market. Francis Zammit Dimech, Maltese Minister for Tourism and Culture, explains the core values driving Malta’s tourism policies:

How does Malta plan to position itself?
The destination has a rich heritage that reflects the island’s geographical position in the heart of the Mediterranean, and is also a melting pot of diverse cultures. Malta’s location and the successive influences of its occupiers have created a unique microcosm of Mediterranean values and culture underpinned by a strong Anglo-Saxon disciplinary base.
Maltese hospitality is another core value of the destination. As a small destination, tourists are not cut off from the reality of local lifestyles and segregated in a resort, but necessarily have to mix with the local population whose hospitality directly influences the tourist experience. So Maltese hospitality is not ‘staged’ – it is genuinely warm, reflecting the friendly Mediterranean temperament of its people. Coupled to this, Malta has an excellent human resource base professionally trained in hospitality and service, capable of meeting even the most exigent demands.
The element of diversity is certainly another core value which places Malta as a distinct destination on the world tourism map.  It offers three island destinations, each with a different character and product. The size is also an advantage for tourists who can participate in many different activities without much travel. From diving, to sailing, to terrace dining or health and spa, the island offers a year-round mix of possibilities for different age groups and nationalities.

How do you plan to drive more tourist traffic to Malta, then?
Our overall tourism marketing strategy centres around seven main segments: operating and leisure, history and culture, sports, English language learning, Gozo-based holidays, MICE and emerging markets including wellness, cruise and stay and short break holidays. These segments ensure that the destination capitalises on its main areas of competitive advantage whilst assisting towards the attraction of a healthy mix of visitors throughout the year. The individual market segments will be developed to reach volume and expenditure targets which reflect the overall direction of the organisation.
The organisation will also seek to be innovative in its marketing approach. It will continue to consolidate its presence on the European market, but will also seek new and exciting ways of sourcing business though innovation and ICT solutions.

What new markets are you looking at?
Our main source markets are in Europe, predominantly the UK (which amounts to 41 per cent of total tourist departures), Germany, Italy and France. However, the potential of new business opportunities from other regions is also recognised. Recent business developments between Malta and the Middle East point towards a strong and healthy long-term relationship. The existing good flight connections between Malta and the UAE will only help to increase tourism.
How much does the Middle East contribute to tourism in Malta? How do you plan to increase that?
It is not a substantial share. Some 2,000 tourists come to Malta from the Middle East (Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and the UAE. The MTA has recently signed a strategic alliance with the Cyprus Tourism Organisation (CTO) and Emirates Airline to explore possible avenues of active co-operation in the tourism sector. This will create a dynamic action plan to promote Malta, Cyprus and Dubai jointly at an international level, as significant destinations in themselves, as well as convenient hubs for travel in the immediate environs.

How has EU membership supported Maltese tourism?
EU membership has meant instant wider global exposure to Malta as a new EU member state because it is included in all EU promotions and represented in all EU offices worldwide. For a country the size of Malta, being ‘discovered’ is often still a challenge. EU membership also gives companies the right to establish business or to provide services in any EU country. The national airline, Air Malta, through the EU’s ‘third package’, has gained a wider and more flexible access to the EU market by operating flights that do not necessarily start or end in Malta.
Membership has brought tougher standards and, while welcomed by consumers, standards imply a cost for operators in the industry. The benefits of quality and excellence, however, by far outweigh the costs. The overall tourism package is also being positively affected as EU membership is boosting investment in major public infrastructure. Duty-free shopping is no longer available for passengers travelling from Malta to other EU countries and vice-versa. Malta’s visa policy conforms to the EU visa list by membership.

Is Malta going to be named a Schengen visa country?
Nationals of EU member states, holders of a valid multiple-entry Schengen visa and nationals of countries with a visa exemption agreement with the EU are currently exempt from visa obligations when coming to Malta. In effect, Malta honours the Schengen visa – but does not provide one to visit other EU countries. All other visitors to Malta must obtain a visa before entering the country.

What new hospitality projects are taking shape in Malta?
Numerous projects are in the pipeline, in particular, there are a number of proposals submitted under the ERDF (European Regional Development Fund) for the period 2007-2013. These include tourism zone improvements, beach development and physical intervention aimed at the urban regeneration of Valletta.
There is also substantial private investment in the hotel sector which is constantly upgrading and redefining the hotel offering to meet current industry trends.
There are also plans for the development of golf courses. This project is currently in the preliminary planning and development stages.
Other major capital projects currently in progress and which are expected to substantially improve the tourist offering are the Manoel Island and Tigne’ Project and the mixed-use Cottonera Waterfront Project, both of which will attract investment and are likely to generate social and economic benefits to the area. A development brief for the latter has been issued and a call for development proposals has been made.