A ‘six-star’ hotel, as the Corinthia Group defines a property it plans to build at St George’s Bay, will not make Malta a six-star destination. For Malta to make a giant leap forward in tourism, which the Prime Minister has said is a must at this stage of economic development, the island must have solid plans and work hard on it.

Making a giant leap forward in tourism is not just about building super luxury hotels but also about revamping the island’s image and infrastructure. It is also about raising overall standards too. It is about upgrading the environment, not by allowing overdevelopment and encroaching upon outside development zones, as it is being done now, but by carefully ensuring that the island does not lose more of its character.

Ultimately, it all boils down to the need of encouraging a national mentality that aspires to excellence across the board and of keeping the island in good shape all the time. The prevailing attitude is going in opposite direction, with the government and its entities doing precious little to reverse the trend, despite national protests and an ever-growing sense of outrage at the kind of building permits being approved for projects disfiguring iconic locations.

What sense would it make if Malta were to have the most luxurious of hotels if the infrastructure and the general environment remain of a third-rate standard? No one has suggested the island goes for the status quo but if the country wants to make a giant leap forward it would have to first, or at least concurrently with the provision of high-end facilities, seriously start thinking of upgrading the environment.

The controversy about the Corinthia project is not about the building of a ‘six-star’ hotel either but about the extension of land concessionary rights originally meant for tourism purposes which, if approved, would enable the hotel group to go into building luxury residences. The land involved is being given away at far below market value. If this were to be taken out of the equation and Corinthia manages to find other means how to make its hotel project feasible, there would be no controversy.

Since handling a huge inflow of tourists will only help to further aggravate environmental problems, it is only natural that Malta ought to change the tourism model. However, big spenders are unlikely to stay in ‘six-star’ hotels all day. They would want to venture out and the sight of Malta outside luxury enclaves would be far from welcoming if the situation remains as it is today. In the case of the new Corinthia hotel, this would, if and when it is built, sit cheek by jowl to what is perhaps one of the ugliest parts of the island.

The Prime Minister is giving the impression there are people who would want to see the island press the pause button on the economy. The clamour is not about pressing the pause button but against haphazard building development, which, in some places, is suffocating residential localities. If the Prime Minister means what he says, the government ought to set about bringing some order into all this and, also, set the ball rolling in a meaningful manner to start upgrading the environment.

Product Malta must be top-class.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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