KURT SANSONE takes a look at the national tourism policy
The tourism policy published recently by government comes in the form of a glossy 80-page publication, which has all the vestiges of a professional document that sets out Malta’s policy for the next five years. The document lays out a holistic vision for tourism but one thing is absolutely clear: nothing comes for free. The first in a list of 14 issues highlighted for policy action is public finances and the first sentence could not be clearer.
“Public finances are finite and must be spent in the most cost effective manner,” the policy document states.
The declared policy is to monitor the use of resources dedicated to the public sector, particularly the Tourism Authority. The document also speaks of the need for the MTA to develop methods of assessing the effectiveness of its major initiatives.
The second issue deals with government’s role in tourism. The current administration foresees a government acting as “facilitator for and regulator of the tourism industry.”
Through regulation, particularly MTA’s regulatory directorate, government will seek to ensure consumer protection and adherence to standards.
The policy encourages management plans for tourism zones in order to better plan works in these areas. Interestingly, the policy calls for these management plans to be extended to areas such as the airport, sea passenger terminal and Gozo ferry terminal. Pity this policy was not thought up before the disastrous road works performed just outside MIA during the summer and the Gozo ferry terminal works, which have been ongoing for years.
Sustainable tourism is also an issue outlined in the document. It clearly identifies the construction industry as being one potential area of conflict. “It is our policy to favour construction for tourism purposes that respects our cultural and national heritage,” the policy states, even if the meaning of this statement is unclear.
What the policy argues for is the need for construction practices to adhere to all building and construction site management regulations. An important note in the document addresses the recent phenomenon of hotels closing down and being turned into apartment despite the original land being handed over to private developers for tourism-related purposes. “Prime sites have in the past been designated for tourism purposes and should remain so, even if the establishment to which the land was originally dedicated is no longer in operation,” the document states.
The policy document also talks about the need to ensure Malta’s accessibility to the outside world and reiterates government’s stand on low cost airlines. When talking about public transport the document fails to make reference to the much-awaited reform and only states what has been said innumerable times: “We will continue to invest in upgrading the public transport and provide training for transport operators.”
Talking about the marine environment, the policy document recognises its value as a tourist attraction but only skims over the issue of fish farms, a major pollutant, by saying that these should be located in areas “where damage can be minimised.”
It is also government policy to create countryside walks for tourists to enjoy Malta’s landscape. “Access of paths for these walks should also be unrestricted,” it states, with clear reference to illegal structures that often block public paths.
The policy states that Gozo will be marketed internationally as a “unique rural destination offering a distinctive experience” where visitors can “get away from it all.”
Gozo could also see the creation of a “non-permanent infrastructure” that will enable stop over cruises to visit the sister island.
The document is accompanied by an implementation plan that also identifies the government agencies and private sector organisations that will be responsible for the individual aspects.
The policy presents nothing earth shattering. It is a collection of ideas that have often been bandied about by different stakeholders. But the effort to bring together all the different suggestions must be commended. At least the document provides a single focus for discussion, even if implementing it is a different story altogether.