Expedia.com, one of the world’s most important online travel companies, recently awarded the Malta Tourism Authority the Best Partner Innovative Award for its marketing initiatives. Indeed, the MTA was the first country representative in the Mediterranean to get such an award, in recognition of its online marketing efforts in the fast-changing travel and tourism industry that is becoming more and more dependent on internet-based services.

“The UK is the most important feeder market for Malta. The UK travellers were the early adopters of the online travel in Europe and the MTA understood this change really fast and therefore it became the earliest adopter of the online marketing initiatives Expedia and the online travel industry offers. We wanted to recognise such vision by awarding MTA as the Best Partner Innovative in this area,” Noah Tratt, vice-president of media solutions at Expedia told i-Tech.

“Expedia was a pioneer in the implementation of online distribution with Maltese hoteliers and it has become a pillar in their sales strategy. We continue to invest into the destination and a good example is the fact that our company yearly meeting with over 330 participants from the Expedia teams around the world was held at the Intercontinental hotel in St Julian’s this year.”

Malta’s relationship with Expedia has tangible positive effects on the Maltese tourism industry, according to Diego Lofeudo, senior director of market management at Expedia.

“In the past 12 months our business for the approximate 100 properties that work with Expedia has increased by 10 per cent year on year. Expedia and the Malta hotel industry worked together this year not only to sell more room nights but also at a more profitable rate as the average daily rate for Malta grew five per cent compared to the rate in 2010. In times of crisis we managed to sell more and at a more profitable rate.”

Indeed the number of independent travellers that search for information, book and pay over internet has been increasing steadily in recent years and today make up around 46 per cent, with the rest being the traditional tour operator travel. A spokesman for the MTA told i-Tech that the role of Expedia has to be seen in the context of these fast-paced developments in this industry.

“The relationship with Expedia has developed very much in line with the rapid changes that the Maltese tourism industry has seen in recent years, primarily the introduction of low-cost carriers, the opening of new routes, the rapid growth of internet-based media for marketing the destination, new trends in international travel and also MTA’s strategy to attract a younger, more affluent and adventurous type of visitor that typically has shorter holidays but travels a number of times in the off-peak periods of the year.

“Expedia has been an important partner in all this and has delivered a very good return to MTA’s and the Maltese tourism industry’s considerable investment with Expedia.”

Although Expedia is a top brand in the global tourism industry it is not the only online travel company. The MTA already collaborates with a good number of other intermediaries which have a very strong position in their respective markets and which can guarantee a high rate of return on investment.

The MTA’s first destination marketing website for the Maltese Islands was launched way back in 1996, when the internet era was still in its infancy. Over the years, online activity was primarily focused on the visitmalta.com website, which was re-designed and re-launched several times, the corporate website, and some other special interest websites. With the advent of Web 2.0, the role of social networking took an increasingly important role, not least in the sphere of tourism marketing. MTA responded to this trend by setting up official pages on the most popular amongst these Web 2.0 media including Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube.

The authority also publishes a multi-lingual e-newsletter which is sent out every two months to an ever-growing database of consumers as a means of keeping in touch and highlighting events and other aspects of the Maltese Islands that could be of interest.

Last year the MTA launched two applications for the Apple iPhone smartphone and Apple iPad tablet. One is a general mobile destination guide, currently available in English, German and Italian. The other is an application that focuses on Malta’s cultural offer. Adapting these into other languages and mobile platforms is being considered.

Recently it also introduced a “text-to-speech” functionality on the visitmalta.com website and allows users with visual impairment or reading difficulties to hear the text in the form of speech.

“The role of internet and associated technologies is fundamental,” the MTA spokesman insisted.

“Already a substantial percentage of visitors to Malta use the internet to research their holiday. An increasing number also use the internet to make their travel arrangements, book and pay for their holiday online. As broadband access continues to spread, and trust in the web continues to grow, this percentage will only get bigger.

“Technology continues to develop at a high rate, empowering both consumers and service providers in ways which were unthinkable just a few years ago. The success and prosperity of the tourism industry in Malta depends on how well we can keep up with these changes and take advantage of the benefits they bring.

“In this context, we are busy developing a brand new version of the visitmalta.com portal which will be launched in the coming months. This totally redesigned website will make better use of the latest technologies, including a fully integrated GIS (geographical information system) and various Web 2.0 functionalities.”

Malta’s efforts in harnessing the opportunities offered by technology in marketing the local tourism product are fully recognised by Expedia.

“Malta performs among the top destination in the Mediterranean when it gets to online understanding and adoption. Expedia invests heavily in the education front to help the Malta travel industry to accelerate its learning curve of the online travel business,” added Expedia’s senior director of market management.

Despite all the positives, the MTA spokesman had a word of caution.

“There is no time to rest on our laurels, competition is tough and constant, market conditions change from day to day, and if one is to survive one must strive to keep ahead of the competition, more so in this rapidly evolving environment of internet and ICT where anything state of the art today can be made passé tomorrow.”

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