Some people have an interest in ensuring that unlicensed tourism accommodation is not properly enforced by the Malta Tourism Authority, shadow minister for tourism Mario de Marco fears.

Speaking in parliament during the budget debate on Monday, de Marco also underlined the need for Malta to increasingly focus on better-spending tourists rather than just numbers.

The Opposition MP hit out at a lack of planning by the government which is impacting the tourism industry.

Examples, he said, were the rapid population growth which had led to congested roads, a lack of cleanliness and a deterioration of services.

He also regretted an increased dependence on foreigners in the provision of services to tourists, often by people who lacked training. What efforts were being made to attract more Maltese to work in tourism services, he asked. 

The government’s lack of planning, he said was also exemplified by the way in which Valletta had been turned into another Paceville.

Focus on numbers

It was regrettable, he said that the government’s focus was on tourism numbers and not on attracting higher quality tourists.

“Numbers are important but more so is tourist spending. We need to focus on quality and not just quality,” he insisted.

For example, he asked, what efforts were being made to attract high-spending tourists from North America, as Greece was successfully doing?  

A carrying capacity exercise was also needed, not just for Malta as a whole, but also the beaches.

“We need to ask ourselves, what kind of tourist will visit Malta in 10 years time?” he asked. And given climate change and rising temperatures, what  planning was being done for its impact, such as a shift of tourism to the shoulder months and winter?

Malta's tourist product, he said, was looking tired and needed to be rejuvenated. What was being done about it? 

The government also needed to safeguard Malta’s attractions, such as the built heritage in the village cores and the environment in the countryside. In this context the permit for an apartment block close to the UNESCO-protected Ġgantija Temples was shameful.

Fairness and transparency in government spending

De Marco criticised the way government funds are being spent, pointing to a lack of transparency and the fact that funds always seemed to be going to the same people.

Mellieħa was not the only tourism destination and there needed to be a fairer distribution of funds, he said. Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo hails from the northern town. 

On plans to close Air Malta and replace it with a new airline, De Marco asked if tourism stakeholders were being consulted and asked if the new airline would have the same priorities as Air Malta.

The former Nationalist government, he said, had increased air connectivity without bankrupting Air Malta. The same could not be said of the present government. Was the present government happy with the fact that under its watch, Ryanair had become the dominant airline and was calling itself the ‘unofficial nation airline of Malta’?

De Marco criticised the government for failing to effectively regulate unlicensed tourist accommodation as compared to collective accommodation and said it appeared that there were people who had an interest in ensuring that the MTA’s enforcement unit remained toothless.

Such was the situation in Malta that five-star hotels, despite having some of the highest occupancy rates in the country, also had low average daily rates., he said. Returns by restaurants were also so low that they were deterring investment.

The shadow minister for tourism also asked what the government was doing about the falling number of language students visiting Malta.

Other speakers included PN MPs Robert Cutajar, Julie Zahra and Stanley Zammit. The debate is still in progress.

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