Suddenly there’s a determination to promote Maltese property development overseas. At a recent Malta Developers’ Association AGM, the Prime Minister made reference to the setting up of Property Malta as a platform to promote Maltese property overseas.
This may prove more difficult than some people think.
We pioneered the publicity of Maltese property overseas in the 1970s, long before any of the other agencies started to.
As a result, we have learnt a lot along the way – including quite how difficult it is to promote our islands internationally, whether for full-time residents or simply as a place to retire to or buy a second home.
In fact, locals may be surprised to learn that, more often than not, we have to start by explaining where Malta is. Most non-Europeans, and even Europeans, have no clue about where our islands are, never mind what they have to offer to residents.
Thus, any international property promotion needs to start by highlighting Malta itself. And for this to be effective and productive, it would need to be a regular and far-reaching campaign, designed to hit different media at different times of day. As you can imagine this would cost a fortune, and be well out of reach of any local operator’s budget.
In fact it hasn’t been at all easy to attract the foreign buyers that we do have. Traditionally, it was the British market that was most familiar with Malta, thanks to our history as a colony. However, as the younger generation has replaced the older one, that familiarity hasn’t been boosted – which is exactly why so many British buyers have opted for homes in Spain, Portugal and France instead. There were all sorts of reasons for this, namely because they were easy to access, had a more favourable property purchase taxes (at one point in Malta a non-Maltese had to pay 17 per cent stamp duty) and had larger complexes with amenities like pools, play areas and so on. It was very difficult for us to compete.
New schemes like the Malta Individual Investor Programme will only have a limited life span
Malta required huge efforts to be made if it was to attract emerging markets too, and the tax advantages for retirees certainly helped. But this effort was sadly lost with the demise of permanent residency scheme.
However, you may be wondering why we do hear so much about so many foreigners relocating here. Largely, this is down to the growth in the gaming and financial services sectors. Malta quickly became an attractive place for those in this industry. However, the island would never have been on their radar if they hadn’t been constrained to work here.
In fact, I believe Malta still lacks many of the amenities sought by couples and young families who are on the hunt for somewhere to move to. This, along with so many other things, remains a barrier.
Now, new schemes like the Malta Individual Investor Programme, will only have a limited life span, as only a percentage of those drawn here will want to stay long term. So, any organisation dedicated to promoting a particular property will have a limited budget that is merely a drop in the ocean when compared to the tens of millions of euros spent by competing destinations.
I believe Property Malta will need to be very clever when it comes to identifying focus groups if it hopes to be effective as, otherwise, results will be limited, at best. So, I suggest that it is going to be vital to identify markets and mediums that will prove to be important in promotion, and to ascertain key exhibitions to attend.
Property Malta is also going to need to find supporting networks overseas, which, I have no doubt, will prove to be a very hard task given the fact that competing destinations can offer triple the commissions that we can afford. Meanwhile, any of the luxury developments coming on to the market need to allocate at least 10 per cent of their budget to marketing, as that is what they are going to need to secure attention.
We know the difficulties that lie in helping Malta to shine overseas; we’ve been there, we’ve done that and we will continue to do so at tremendous expense. If Property Malta plans to do the same, then they will doubtlessly have to come to terms with the huge costs associated with promoting Malta beyond our shores. Unless they are ready to allocate a budget running into the millions, they might as well do nothing at all.
Douglas Salt is director, Frank Salt Real Estate.