For years previous administrations stressed the importance of improving the product offered to our tourists by upgrading and embellishing areas around the Maltese Islands to further attract quality tourists. Many projects were identified but unfortunately never implemented. This led to a possible loss of tourism-related business.

This government is determined to address matters differently. We have set our objectives and are now looking at various new projects based on a longer-term vision for sustainable development that safeguards the positive aspects of Malta for both visitors and its host population.

Analysing this year’s results up to August, we broke all records registered last year including inbound tourists that reached 1.2 million, a 4.7% increase.

Furthermore, tourist nights during the same months under review reached 9.6 million, a 4.4% increase on 2014.

Tourism expenditure between January and August 2015 showed a remarkable growth of 6.8% on 2014.  This means that an additional €71 million were directly injected into the Maltese economy in the first eight months alone.

These very positive and optimistic results demonstrate that the policies and initiatives implemented for this sector are functioning well and bearing fruit, especially given that tourism expenditure is growing faster than tourist arrivals.  We have also been successful in penetrating new source markets, beyond the traditional ones. During the first eight months of this year, a substantial increase in tourists was registered from the Austrian, Belgian, Irish and the Swiss markets, whilst the Spanish market is recovering very well on last year’s results.

Government is determined to take all the necessary measures to curb unlicensed accommodation

When recognising the increase in arrival figures, one also needs to bear in mind the importance of improving the quality of our product. The tourism industry has established itself firmly as the key pillar of Malta’s economy and a resilient driver for further economic growth. To further build on this success, the sector needs to consolidate its growth performance and exploit new opportunities to face upcoming challenges and fierce competition from countries that are all gearing up to attract more tourism to their shores.

Government will therefore direct more effort at improving the quality of the product on offer and increase our standards that, in turn, would lead to attracting more quality tourists.

As the National Tourism Policy 2015-2020 says, we need to improve the aesthetics and environmental quality of our tourism zones, the landscaping and give attention to the design and detail of our product. We need to focus more on the upkeep and maintenance of tourism zones, especially during the summer months.

Government will also ensure progress is registered to sustain cleansing efforts aimed at removing accumulated eyesores, including dumping and derelict buildings and spaces in urban and rural settings.

Our vision is to deliver a high-quality service and product that will positively influence the tourists’ travelling choices and behaviour, while instilling a quality culture that permeates through all aspects.

In return, a tourist who is more satisfied by the product and service received, tends to spend more through increased demand for other tourist-related services and products on offer.

Government is aware of the need to address these issues and has decided to introduce the ‘environment contribution’ where all revenue generated will be directed at improving the local infrastructure and at offering a better product in general. This will support the implementation of the government’s strategy and policies for the sector, which in turn will contribute to more economic growth.

The revenue generated by this environment contribution will be managed by the Foundation for Tourism Zone Development, which was established earlier this year, with the overall objective of ensuring an effective upkeep and maintenance of our overall product. Through the foundation, the Ministry for Tourism will involve representatives from the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association to ensure an effective input by all interested stakeholders. This contribution will be introduced on April 1, 2016, allowing the industry to prepare for its implementation.

The Foundation for Tourism Zone Development will also hold discussions with the industry to identify the best way to collect the contribution with the least burden on the operators.

The environment contribution will only be collected through collective accommodation establishments, such as hotels and guest houses. The applicable charge shall be 50c per person per night to a maximum of five euros, payable only by adults, with under-18s being exempt.

Furthermore, government is also aware that unlicensed premises create an unfair disadvantage to the detriment of licensed operators. The use of the former by visiting tourists also creates a situation where tourists are utilising premises that do not guarantee the level of quality expected and that consequently will negatively affect the satisfaction levels expected by our tourists.

The Government is determined totake all the necessary measures in the months ahead to curb all unlicensed accommodation.

Our main objective is to improve quality along all the tourism value chain. This will lead us to improving our future competitiveness and sustainability of the sector. I am confident that the private sector will help me attain this objective. Our aim is to truly showcase the special, distinctive features and characteristics of our beautiful destination to encourage a high level of visitor satisfaction, thus strengthening a key pillar of the Maltese economy.

Dr Edward Zammit Lewis is Minister for Tourism.

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