Malta has been host to several travel industry conferences recently. How has this exposure helped boost the islands’ tourism count? Travel Daily speaks to Malta Tourism’s UK director.
Malta held the ABTA Travel Convention and now the Advantage Conference, how do these events benefit the country’s tourism?
First I must explain that the UK market is the most important to Malta, 33% of arrivals come from the UK and of those, 55% book packages. The cliché is that tour operators are dying but I think they are here to stay so we must continue to work with the trade and get closer to them. This applies not just to the big companies but also independents. While ABTA hosts decision makers Advantage have the frontline staff so it’s a natural progression and part of our trade philosophy.
Throughout the conference there are two tour guides available to show delegates around the island or help with any information they may want to know.
Malta is known as a beach destination but are there niche areas you are looking to target?
Malta has a perception issue in the UK as it’s not on the radar for a certain age. People know Malta because of the British colony but the perception is it is for the grey market and not sexy or appealing to younger markets. As part of this 18-30 strategy we have held the Isle of MTV concert for six years and it is working. Besides will.i.am this year, Nelly Furtado, FloRida and Cassie will be performing.
We’ve also been working closely with high-end magazines in the UK to go into the luxury market. There are high-end farmhouses and four or five star product in Malta and Gozo but it’s just getting the message across. It’s not necessarily about volume but reaching the right audience. We have focused on the farmhouses and tiny four-room boutique hotels that have an intimate feel.
We are aggressively pushing that there we have more to offer than the ‘bucket and spade’ to trade. There is our history, Gozo, wedding, wellness/spa and MICE sectors.
We do not want to discredit the traditional tour operator market but have recognised that there is an untouched market that goes to Budapest or Barcelona when they could go to Malta. We are trying to work with more niche operators moving forward such as diving and youth and work with more specialists, plus the big boys.
Tell our readers about your work for ‘eco Gozo’
Eco-Gozo is the government’s strategy for the future of the island with the target to make Gozo an eco-island by 2020. We are extremely proud to be teaming up with such a well-regarded sustainable brand such as The Travel Foundation to support its Make Holidays Greener Month. Working with The Travel Foundation on this campaign enables us to help educate holidaymakers on how to make a difference to the local communities in which they stay whilst at the same time share our new ecotourism initiative on Gozo with the world. The aim of the Eco-Gozo Strategy is to preserve the island’s environment, way of life, resources, culture and identity, while developing the tourism industry and the economy at large in a responsible and sustainable way
How is cruise product being developed?
Cruise is a big market but those passengers do not tend to stay too long in Malta. We are working close with cruise lines to start embarkations and disembarkations from the port so we can promote a fly/cruise concept. It is a fantastic harbour with all its history and with cruises starting or ending there it would encourage more tourism in Malta.
It is currently a grey area but we certainly want to build Valetta as a cruise destination and looking to expand on this next year. The terminal was done up a few years ago and soon there will be a cable car from the port up to the city to improve access.
What other plans are in place for the country?
Valletta’s entrance, House of Parliament and opera house are currently being redesigned and will be ready towards the end of this year into March 2013. This is a huge investment by the government and has been designed by Renzo Piano, who designed The Shard.
Our pillars in tourism success are accessibility, promotion and product. There are now 17 routes from the UK into Malta because customers want convenience of a nearby airport, plus easyJet and Ryanair come and go from other destinations but we have maintained high load factors. Product is the most important element [see above for action] and in 2018 Valetta will be the European Capital of Culture so we will have to position Malta in the right way. This will include events such as the Baroque festival in January which will tie in the architecture and artists.