Fa­tigue Tourism Des­ti­na­tion Syn­drome: why now is the time to ad­dress wear and tear af­ter a suc­cess­ful touris­tic year

Pres­i­dent of the Tourism, Hospi­tal­ity and Leisure Sec­tor of GRTU PHILIP FENECH speaks to He­lena Grech

Malta Independent - - INTERVIEW -

Pres­i­dent of the Tourism, Hospi­tal­ity and Leisure Sec­tor of GRTU Philip Fenech be­lieves that now is the ideal time to ad­dress many wear and tear is­sues that have arisen across the is­land as a re­sult from Malta’s boom­ing tourism sec­tor.

As an­other bustling sum­mer comes to a close, and the level of tourists slowly starts to de­crease, one can eas­ily no­tice the fa­tigue in the coun­try – from pol­lu­tion lev­els, main­te­nance is­sues, bro­ken street signs and rusted benches.

Mr Fenech ex­plains this as be­ing the is­sue with Malta’s great suc­cess in the tourism sec­tor – a sort of ‘good’ prob­lem to have. The way he sees it, is that the tourism zone foun­da­tion that cur­rently ex­ists to­day, could po­ten­tially be given more pow­ers so that it can ad­dress wear and tear is­sues im­me­di­ately.

“How many times have we seen, for ex­am­ple, a car crash that dam­ages pub­lic prop­erty, like a street sign, and weeks pass­ing by be­fore any­body does some­thing about it. One of the main is­sues is that it is un­clear who is re­spon­si­ble for what.

“This is why I am propos­ing a strength­ened tourism zone foun­da­tion – so that should an is­sue like this arise, some­body can call the foun­da­tion and per­son­nel will ei­ther be able to tell you who the per­son re­spon­si­ble is – be it the lo­cal coun­cil, or Trans­port Malta – or if the dam­aged site is in a grey area, the foun­da­tion can sort the prob­lem it­self.

“We can­not be com­pla­cent or slow about it, be­cause it is the end of the sea­son and we have had two fan­tas­tic years of tourist lev­els, now is the time to take a look at these places. Manag­ing the zones is not only about main­te­nance but also about se­cu­rity. We have the tourism po­lice as an ex­per­i­ment and hope­fully this will grow. Trans­port Malta has to get into the nitty-gritty of traf­fic man­age­ment in dense ar­eas. Paceville is a real model of how an area can be­come in­tense – Val­letta and Bugibba are see­ing sim­i­lar lev­els of in­ten­sity.”

Fa­tigue Tourism Des­ti­na­tion Syn­drome

“The tra­di­tion­ally tourist ar­eas are that of Sliema, St Ju­lian’s, Val­letta and Md­ina, among oth­ers. Md­ina has been done up re­cently and it’s seen a high num­ber of tourists. If you look around you can see what I call this fa­tigue tourism des­ti­na­tion syn­drome, which I would not like to see.

“I think this is why we need a very good tourism zone man­age­ment com­mit­tee. It al­ready ex­ists and I sit on the board. Pos­i­tively, we are think­ing of these things: the tourism zones’ foun­da­tion man­age­ment. There is now an­other com­mit­tee re­lated to the bed tax (eco-con­tri­bu­tion tax) that is go­ing into a trust, where that trust is go­ing to be man­aged es­sen­tially by gov­ern­ment and hope­fully by the pri­vate sec­tor. We are writ­ing to the min­is­ter to be able to par­tic­i­pate.

“When we speak of man­age­ment we speak about manag­ing ev­ery­thing such as cleanliness and real time main­te­nance. There is the im­me­di­ate main­te­nance that needs to be seen to, since we have tourists all the time now. They are spilling over not only in the town cen­tres but else­where.

“We need to see to this main­te­nance in real time, and hope­fully the tourism zones, I’ve been lob­by­ing for this, will have a fund that su­per­sedes what the lo­cal coun­cils will do. Even if they bill the coun­cil later but the hy­po­thet­i­cal bench needs to be fixed in real time. This man­age­ment com­mit­tee will be so proac­tive that it will sort it out im­me­di­ately and then rec­on­cile af­ter. This non­sense of wait­ing for ten­ders for tiny main­te­nance work is just not work­ing.

“Tourists are dis­cov­er­ing ar­eas which are not typ­i­cally tourist des­ti­na­tions. There are lots of nice ar­eas where if nice path­ways were paved and lit­tle de­tails are taken care of - it can go a long way. St. Peter’s Pool is a good ex­am­ple of tourists spilling over to ar­eas that are not known to cater for them.”

De­vel­op­ment vs preser­va­tion of her­itage

“Some peo­ple are say­ing – and this is the big de­bate – we have to be very care­ful that Malta does not lose its her­itage and charm. Hav­ing said that, we are an or­gan­i­sa­tion (GRTU) that be­lieves in en­ter­prise and the econ­omy.

“We need to strengthen our in­sti­tu­tions, such as the En­vi­ron­ment and Re­sources Au­thor­ity. Hope­fully they have a big job to find that bal­ance with­out sti­fling eco­nomic growth. When I go back to the past and re­mem­ber dis­cus­sions about need­ing to bring five star ho­tels to Malta – there was a whole de­bate that we were ruin-

We need to see to this main­te­nance in real time, and hope­fully the tourism zones will have a fund that su­per­sedes what the lo­cal coun­cils will do.

ing the en­vi­ron­ment. The re­al­ity is that we felt the need for five stars be­cause we wanted to cater for cer­tain kind of tourists and host con­fer­ences. We did lose some­thing across the way.

“We do not want Malta to be an­other Dubai, but the good thing about Malta is that con­sid­er­ing the size of it we still have a good mix of tra­di­tional charm and mod­ern ameni­ties.

“I can un­der­stand the ex­cite­ment for high rises in cer­tain tourist ar­eas, hav­ing these pent­house clubs but ob­vi­ously we do not want to have a high rise in an area that is go­ing to spoil the tra­di­tional charm of the area.

“Look at the South, the Jerma hotel – a very mod­ern de­vel­op­ment at the time – was very im­por­tant be­cause it kept busi­nesses go­ing and move­ment in the area.

“With Malta, hav­ing all this po­ten­tial, the V18 and the Pres­i­dency – many con­fer­ences can take place here. It is not very tax­able on the en­vi­ron­ment and will con­trib­ute greatly to the econ­omy by cre­at­ing good value added. “

Patch­work sys­tem for plan­ning and the newly pro­posed Paceville Mas­ter­plan

Asked about how the GRTU feels about the patch­work sys­tem used throughout the years when it comes to de­vel­op­ment and plan­ning in Malta, Mr Fenech said:

“I am find­ing that I can vent my thoughts on this mat­ter through this tourism zone com­mit­tee. I be­lieve that if it is man­aged well we will be able to over­all see how Malta has developed. There was no strate­gic plan. Ok there was the MDC where in the old Labour days they said the South would be in­dus­trial and the North would be touris­tic, and now the North is developed. There was no holis­tic plan how­ever every­body built on every­body else’s suc­cess.

“When I had BJs in the 1970s, I was there on my own. Then peo­ple build on your suc­cess – be­cause it was a pop­u­lar place, you need a take-away next door. Be­cause the hotel in the area was full, an­other one was built and so on and so forth.

“This is how a hub gets cre­ated and it is pos­i­tive. At the same time there is neg­a­tive en­ergy to­wards old build­ings be­ing knocked down to re­place new ones. Now if there was a strate­gic plan from the very be­gin­ning we wouldn’t have done cer­tain dam­age we have done to the en­vi­ron­ment that we are try­ing to fix.

“In fact, if you look at Spain, whole ar­eas were knocked down and re­built with bet­ter plan­ning.

“If you look at Paceville to­day, the road net­works are not keep­ing up with the high level of traf­fic as a re­sult of so many busi­nesses in the area. The mid­dle is so con­gested, we have to be very ef­fi­cient should there be an ac­ci­dent in one of these ar­eas, it will be very dif­fi­cult to get to the ac­ci­dent.

“We need to plan, es­pe­cially what’s left of our is­land, to use our re­sources at the most ef­fi­cient stages as we can. We can­not af­ford to make one mis­take, be­fore we could patch it up but now it is a bit dif­fi­cult.”

Turn­ing to the €300 mil­lion mas­ter plan for Paceville, which was pro­posed last week and would ad­dress the many long­stand­ing plan­ning is­sues, Mr Fenech said:

“We look very for­ward to that plan which seems to fi­nally be look­ing at things in holis­tic way and not in a piece­meal fash­ion. We are study­ing and look­ing into the plans so that we can come out with our com­ments and we agree that such ap­proaches will be taken to all our busy, touris­tic ar­eas such as Bugibba, Birgu, Marsas­cala and even Val­letta – how­ever there seems to be a real ef­fort be­ing made for our cap­i­tal city, es­pe­cially in the light of it be­ing Europe’s cap­i­tal for cul­ture in 2018.”

Ar­eas of po­ten­tial and maximising tourism in the shoul­der months

Hav­ing been heav­ily in­volved in Malta’s tourism sec­tor over the years, and hav­ing seen Malta change so dras­ti­cally, Mr Fenech looks into the way Malta’s tourism suc­cess has grown and changed.

“Malta’s achieve­ment is the fact that we now have a mar­ket­ing mix. Es­sen­tially Malta’s prod­uct is made up of a lot of dif­fer­ent seg­ments, all in­te­grat­ing and work­ing to­gether. Malta is not like Gs­taad, where peo­ple go to ski and that is it. That gives an el­e­ment of se­cu­rity and that hasn’t come easy. This has come about from 30 years of work. Our first tourist was the Bri­tish tourist who came for the sun, sea and beach.

“What we have done and is opened all these niche mar­kets: one of the most ex­cit­ing is wed­ding tourism. We started off by nor­mal wed­dings with a group of 30-40 peo­ple but now we are go­ing for these plush wed­dings, many of which are Asian wed­dings. They will come and have three or four par­ties be­fore the wed­ding, the ac­tual wed­ding it­self, and then an af­ter wed­ding party as well. We are talk­ing about very wealthy peo­ple, ob­vi­ously bring­ing with them the whole fam­ily and busi­ness friends.”

De­vel­op­ing mar­kets

“An­other mar­ket de­vel­op­ing strongly which goes into the dif­fer­ent types of lodg­ings, is com­mu­nity tourism. There is a tourist who doesn’t want to come here to at­tend a con­fer­ence, or for sun and sea, sports or re­li­gion. There is a type of tourist who comes for the cul­ture - cul­ture in a sense to en­joy the ac­tual life­style of how the lo­cals live. They will lit­er­ally want to go and stay with some­one liv­ing in the South or in Gozo, where in the evening the hus­band goes to the band club and pre­pares for the feast. Lit­tle things that we take for granted but are part of Malta’s tra­di­tional charm. The tra­di­tional fire­works, feast prepa­ra­tion and tra­di­tional meals.

“Ac­cess and ex­po­sure to this will make the dif­fer­ence for that tourist. The more we carry on de­vel­op­ing these seg­ments the bet­ter it is.

“Med­i­cal tourism also has a lot of po­ten­tial, even with the con­tracts that have brought in pri­vate health en­ti­ties. Un­for­tu­nately, maybe by de­fault, we must keep in mind that be­cause of the wars we have around us there is that need as well. A lot of these gov­ern­ments have money to take care of their peo­ple and this gives us an el­e­ment of value added.

“This year we will prob­a­bly close with about 1.8 or 1.9 mil­lion tourists, which is a lot. Now, we need to man­age this. We still have ex­cess ca­pac­ity be­cause between Novem­ber and May we can still carry more tourists. We are at our peak lit­er­ally in July and Au­gust where we can­not take more peo­ple. Be­cause we in­creased our sup­ply, we can­not go back to the fig­ures we used to at­tain.

“Our ho­tels have in­creased their bed con­tent. Hav­ing said that, be­cause we have in­creased our sup­ply side, ac­cord­ing to the de­mand, that means that now we can­not go back on the fig­ures we have at­tained be­cause they have be­come now what we call a main­te­nance dose, in other words sus­tain­abil­ity fig­ures.

“Where we used to say 1 mil­lion is enough and .8/9 is all profit, the .8 isn’t profit any­more be­cause we have in­creased our ca­pac­i­ties.

“What we need to do now is in­crease more tourists be­cause there is no rea­son way we can’t have an Au­gust in Jan­uary, Fe­bru­ary or March. We still have the space to take that and the ex­penses are there: the beds are open and the beds are there. Not only beds, but that we also have more re­tail and more ser­vices in all their di­ver­sity. What is im­por­tant is to carry on re­fin­ing those seg­ments to cre­ate more value added.”

We do not want Malta to be an­other Dubai, but the good thing about Malta is that con­sid­er­ing the size of it we still have a good mix of tra­di­tional charm and mod­ern ameni­ties.

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