Hoteliers are calling for a study to establish the maximum number of tourists that Malta can cope with due to its limited geographical size and high population density.

The Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association made its call during the presentation of the performance survey for the first three months of the year.

According to this survey, arrivals rose by 18.8% over 2017, but profit in five-star hotels was down by 30.6%. The latter drop was attributed to the one-off events held in the first half of last year when Malta held the rotating EU Council Presidency.

In his address, MHRA president Tony Zahra said the time was ripe to start focusing on sustainability and “responsible tourism” rather than numbers. 

“Those responsible for planning tourism must be careful to ensure that tourists or locals do not destroy what tourists have come to see. One must, therefore, take all necessary precautions to avoid killing the goose that lays the golden egg.”

In this respect, the association presented an eight-point plan. This comprises a carrying capacity assessment in view of the fact that the last time such an exercise was carried out was in 2001.

Another proposal was to strengthen public agencies responsible for infrastructural maintenance and cleanliness, and to intensify efforts to diversify and spread arrivals around other parts of the island.

The MHRA is also proposing fiscal incentives to attract tourists in winter months, strict enforcement on accommodation standards and better management of visitors at heritage sites on the lines of the model at the Hypogeum. Moreover, hoteliers are calling for a tourism masterplan leading to 2040.

In his remarks, Mr Zahra said tourist arrivals in the first quarter this year continued with the “impressive” trend registered last year.

“Arrivals are up and are reaching levels which we only dreamed about a few years back,” he remarked. 

However, overcrowding was becoming an issue not only in Malta but across popular tourist destinations around the globe, he said. Citing from an international study by IP World Tourism Monitor at ITB, he said that 24% of global destination management organisations reported overcrowding problems and that 37% said that “over-tourism” was having a negative effect.

During a debate on the recruitment difficulties being faced by hoteliers, Identity Malta CEO Anton Sevasta said that at present there are 42,000 foreign workers in Malta, 12,000 of whom are non-EU citizens. 

However, the number is likely to keep increasing as job applications being submitted to Jobs Plus by foreign nationals wanting to work in Malta increased from 1,100 per month in 2016 to 2,600 in the first months of this year.