The peak tourism season is slowly drawing to an end. It is the right time to undertake a quality check of what the industry is achieving and try to understand the challenges that lie ahead.

There is no doubt that the number of tourists visiting the island is more than satisfactory. But this is hardly the only yardstick that we need to use to measure the success of this year’s operations. Low-cost airlines have revolutionised the industry in the last decade as millions more Europeans discover that they can have even more than one holiday every year without breaking the family bank.

In the case of Malta, the numbers will in the short-term continue to increase if the accommodation capacity can cope with the hundreds of thousands of aircraft seats that are made available by low cost and legacy airlines. Political trouble in Turkey and severe health issues in low-cost destinations like Tunisia and Egypt will mean that Malta will face less competition from destinations that usually attract customers at the lower end of the market.

There are however other less favourable issues that in my opinion and that of many operators are not being addressed. I believe that the exuberance about how well the industry is performing is preventing many policymakers from making some realistic assessment about the prospects of this essential industry.

Saying, or even implying, that Malta will soon become another Monte Carlo is just dangerous wishful thinking built on illusions. An overpopulated island with serious traffic management problems, lack of enforcement of sensible civic behaviour regulations, proliferating ghettos on some of our beaches, increasing employment of inadequately trained staff in tourism-related businesses, and unsightly dirty spots in many tourist locations are just some of the problems that seem to be overlooked by the authorities.

Public transport may have improved slightly on what it was a decade ago but is still not fit for purpose

Public transport may have improved slightly on what it was a decade ago but is still not fit for purpose. Locals and tourists alike know that the published bus timetables are not reliable and long waits in inadequate bus shelters in the sweltering summer heat is no way to spend even a few hours of limited holiday time. Part of the problem, of course, is the heavy traffic in practically all parts of the island at any time of the day.

The traffic management system seems to rely on a laissez-faire attitude of law enforcers who turn a blind eye when cars and delivery trucks block narrow arterial roads as drivers decide to stop and buy pastizzi or unload merchandise in shops. Road users have given up on some order being enforced by those who are responsible for making our roads safe and efficient.

The proliferation of caravan sites in most coastal areas is not only making our beaches ugly but constitutes a health hazard. I may be wrong, but it also seems that some of these caravans may be planning to become permanent fixtures especially if owned by those who are unable to afford a regular residence.

Repeatedly law enforcers claim that there is nothing in the law that prevents anyone from occupying public land and setting up not just a movable caravan but a semi-permanent residence. Policymakers seem to be more interested in not irking abusers by enforcing or even changing the laws to ensure that we get rid of the old and new ghettos that have cropped in practically every bay.

A short visit to tourist hot spots like Paceville and Buġibba will reveal the pitiable state of the urban environment where dirt accumulates every day, and little seems to be done to clear it fast enough. I am sure that Monte Carlo’s tourist areas do not have the kind of filth that is often seen in some parts of our island.

Perhaps the most challenging aspect of an action plan for the future of the industry is the quality of the people that are employed in the industry. Many foreign workers employed this summer do not have the level of training needed if we are to enhance the experience of the kind of tourists that we need to add more value to the industry.

Tourism is our most important economic activity. It should continue to be so for many years to come. But a dispassionate quality audit will probably conclude that not enough is being done to invest in the human and physical infrastructure that the industry urgently needs to give the right economic and social returns.

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