Financial incentives to lure tourists to Malta should be coupled with “clear messages and guidelines” if they are to work, according to the World Tourism Organisation general secretary.

In an interview with Times of Malta ahead of the island’s reopening to tourists on June 1, Zurab Pololikashvili said financial stimulus packages would only work if messages and guidelines are direct.

“Such incentives will help Malta attract tourists, especially at a time of heightened competition when the demand for travel is on a rise,” he said, as Malta prepares to reopen the tourist season after the partial shutdown sparked by the pandemic.

Last year, the government was heavily criticised for adopting a lax approach in early summer when the number of new COVID-19 infections had started to dwindle.

According to Pololikashvili, the past year has been a steep learning curve for governments and the global tourism sector but expressed confidence Malta and the rest of Europe will have a better summer.

“Much progress has been made since then, both in harmonising rules and regulations for safe international travel and on the virus itself. Thanks to the knowledge acquired and above all, the effectiveness of the vaccines being rolled out, I am confident this summer will be a better one for tourism both in Malta and across Europe.”

The COVID-19 pandemic brought tourism industries around the world to their knees, with whole sectors closed for months on end. Malta’s industry was not spared, with 2021 starting off with a 91% drop in tourism arrivals. But Pololikashvili said the “positive messaging” in Malta’s marketing campaign “will go a long way in restoring confidence in international travel”.

“The ‘We’re Open’ campaign sends a clear message that Malta is ready to welcome tourists back safely and responsibly. People all around the globe want to travel again,” he said.

The general secretary also believes the island could be one of the main destinations to benefit from the planned launch of the EU’s travel certificate.

Malta’s potential inclusion on the UK’s safe travel list will also provide a boost for the tourism sector ahead of the peak summer season, he said.

The island was left off this list earlier in May when it was first unveiled by the UK government. The British authorities said they would review their list every three weeks, although the spread of the Indian variant could result in delays in such updates.

The “positive marketing campaigns and inventive policies”, such as offering tourists financial incentives to visit Malta, show the government’s ability to adapt and lead from the front, Pololikashvili said.

While the key right now is to restore trust in travel, looking beyond short-term measures, he said destinations should work to build their resilience against future shocks.

“This can include diversifying the tourism sector, for instance through growing rural tourism or promoting areas of growing interest like gastronomy or cultural tourism.”

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