The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) has just published a report entitled Carrying Capacity Study for Tourism in the Maltese Islands which report has been drawn up by its consultants Deloitte and financed primarily by EU funds.
A point which made the headlines, resulting from the said report, is relative to the availability of tourism accommodation, including touristic development which is still in the pipeline. Over the next five years, the report says, there is a significant risk of an over-supply in the expected accommodation growth. Various media reports have emphasised that as a result of the projected supply of touristic accommodation, close to 5 million tourists would be required (at an average 80 per cent occupancy throughout the year) to ensure the sector’s long-term profitability. Such an influx of tourists, definitely, cannot be handled by the country.
This is definitely the result of an lack of adequate land use planning. Unfortunately, the Planning Authority has continuously encouraged a free-for-all, particularly through the relaxation of various planning policies applicable to touristic accommodation. In fact, Tony Zahra, MHRA President, has been quoted as saying that we do not have a “Planning Authority” but a “Permitting Authority”. For once, he is quite obviously right.
Unfortunately, this attitude of the Planning Authority is not limited to the touristic sector: it is spread throughout the islands relative to all types of development. It is an attitude which has contributed considerably towards “overcrowding, overdevelopment and uglification” which the Deloitte report groups together as being the contributors to the poor urban environment which impacts both residents and tourists indiscriminately!
An interesting point made by the Deloitte report is that the tourist sector is continuously decreasing in importance as the provider of employment opportunities for Maltese residents. In fact, the report states that, in 2009, 82 per cent of those employed in the tourism sector were Maltese. By 2019 this had decreased to 40.6 per cent. A staggering decrease in excess of 50 per cent! The report does not offer any specific explanation for this. Reliance on poor remuneration of seasonal and part-time labour is a most obvious contributor to the situation. Its correction would inevitably cut the tourism sector down in size and consequently increase the problem of over-supply! The Deloitte report is generally silent about this basic flaw.
The quality of the touristic product is impacted considerably not only by the poor urban environment, which is getting progressively worse. It is also negatively impacted by the exponential increase in traffic and litter. Deloitte also identify the lack of product authenticity as a contributor to the decreasing quality of the touristic product. This is the result of the lack of Maltese working in the sector!
The report also hints at turismophobia. It records the preoccupation of those residing in touristic areas. They are less enthusiastic about tourism when compared to those living in other areas which are not in continuous contact with the tourist.
This ties in with a study carried out by academics at the University of Malta, Lino Briguglio and Marie Avellino, who, in a paper published in 2020 and entitled Has over-tourism reached the Maltese Islands? had pointed out the need for a tourism policy which focuses on mitigating its negative impacts.
Tourism is not an activity that happens in a vacuum. It takes place in a community of persons, who should be assured that their quality of life is not impacted negatively as a result of the experience.
Tourism is not just about the numbers of tourists who visit, or the millions of euro spent or its contribution to the Gross National Product: it is also about our quality of life.
The profitability to be addressed should not be limited to financial parameters. As tourism is not just about the tourist: it is about each one of us.
published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 October 2022