Malta needs to welcome some 4.7 million tourists per year if accommodation occupancy is to reach 80% throughout the whole year, a study commissioned by the hotels lobby has shown. 

The Carrying Capacity Study for Tourism in the Maltese Islands, commissioned by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association and carried out by Deloitte, has also identified a series of issues that need to be addressed to tackle occupancy problems.

Traffic, littering, waste management and poor urban environment, namely overdevelopment and uglification, as well as lack of authenticity were flagged by stakeholders as persistent problems that hamper an increase in capacity. 

Stakeholders interviewed as part of the study also highlighted negative exposure via social media as a growing problem while “waning enthusiasm” from residents in tourist spots was also deemed problematic.

“Improved tourism management and focused investments are required to sustain growth,” Deloitte said in its report. 

Labour force limitations were also identified as hampering and conditioning tourism growth. 

The study found that the total number of Maltese working in the sector dropped to 5,964 in 2019 from 7,974 in 2010. The 2019 figures translate to around 40% of all of the sector’s workers. Data for more recent years was not provided.

According to the stakeholders, the low number of Maltese workers reduces the authenticity of the tourism product, adds infrastructure pressures such as traffic and sewage issues and also increases the need for more residential dwellings to house foreign workers. This, in turn, contributes to the overdevelopment and uglification of the island, they said. 

‘Sewage seeps into sea due to network deficiencies’

The study also identified sewage issues as a key problem, with stakeholders saying sewage networks are operating “vastly beyond designed capacity in certain key tourism areas” which often results in sewage seeping into the sea. 

Carrying out upgrades in densely populated areas requires significant funds and would be disruptive, the stakeholders said. 

The study also raised concerns about Malta’s capacity to cater for the level of tourism growth required to sustain the existing pipeline of tourism projects and development.

"The key is balance. We need to find the right balance for sustainable tourism growth. We need to reduce oversupply risk, increase cohesion, get a better network faster, remove bottlenecks, get more out of what we have and reduce and mitigate impact on the environment," Deloitte's Michael Zarb said.

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