First in, last out

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by Jesmond Saliba

Tourism was the first sector to feel the brunt of the coronavirus and, given the overlapping nature of the situation, it may be the last to emerge from the crisis.

Tourism industries in Malta contribute directly to a hearty five percent of the country’s GDP but the sector’s overspill onto other trade areas such as retail or transport expands the footprint to as much as twelve percent of total generated wealth.

By forcing travel bans and radical social distancing measures, the respiratory disease has indeed attacked the lungs of the country’s economy, and a vital sector carefully cultivated over half a century is now teetering on the brink.

Fortunately, the competent authorities have been proactive is dampening the hit with a limited set of adjustments. Among other initiatives, the Malta Tourism Authority just rolled out a broad destination promotion campaign targeting thirteen markets. The drive takes double advantage of a truly captured audience craving a holiday abroad as well as the relatively inexpensive advertising rates, hoping to put Malta in pole position once tourism starts its slow rebound internationally.

Besides the effect on the sector itself, the marketing initiative is a welcome signal to other industries and businesses, demonstrating that a slow sales period does not have to be a silent selling period.

On the other hand, however, the MTA campaign does not indicate any major shift in the Malta’s positioning as a tourism destination. Data by the National Statistics Office shows that the explosive increase in the sector’s revenue over the past decade was prompted by the rising numbers of visitors year-on-year, rather than higher per capita expenditure. Moreover, Malta’s biggest markets – the UK, Italy, Germany, and France – are among the countries worst hit by the spread, accounting to around a quarter of global cases between them.

There have been repeated calls from within and without the sector to switch the quantity-quality ratios and replant tourism in more sustainable ground, but the volume-seeking tactics are too great a temptation when things are going smoothly.

Now that the crisis has broken the sector’s inertia, operators and authorities have been handed a golden chance to build a tourism strategy prioritising excellence, differentiation, and high-value. Although the longer recovery period will pile more pressure on stakeholders, the restoration of other sectors in the meantime will clear the runway for Malta’s tourism to lift off successfully once again.

Jesmond Saliba


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