Last March, a Eurobarometer report was published on the attitudes of Europeans towards holidays and travel. This report comes at an interesting time when the present economic downturn may be one of the principle factors which changes the present trends and behaviour of the traveller from Europe. Another important factor about this study,which should be of interest to us in Malta and Gozo, concerns the issue of the source of our tourism markets to the islands. Statistics show that in 2006, some 460 million Europeans travelled abroad and, of these, some 160 million chose to travel to the Meditteranean. Despite the growth of emerging markets in Asia and the Middle East, Europe continues to be a dominant market for tourism both as an inbound destination as well as an outbound one. In this present scenario that is predicting domestic holidays and tourism to short haul destinations, this could provide an opportunity for us in Malta and Gozo to attract a broader cross section from Europe than we have done in the past, more so when we consider that these islands now form part of the Eurozone.
The report published by Eurobarometer followed a study that was carried out between the 14 and 18 February 2009 among some 27,000 randomly selected citizens over 15 from the 27 member states within the European Union. The findings included the fact that in 2008, two thirds of European Citizens (67 per cent) made a private trip abroad; more than half (58 per cent) took a vacation; the more popular destinations included Spain, Italy, France and Greece. There is more focus on domestic tourism for 2008, illustrated by the fact that 43 per cent of respondents took a holiday in their normal country of residence, while some 48 per cent have already confirmed they will be taking holidays at home this year. An interesting statistic concerns the fact that 28 per cent of Europeans would rather travel to destinations that are not so conventional and have been described as “off the beaten track”, and of this cross section, nearly half (48 per cent) appreciate the local flavour (Couleur Locale) and characteristics of these destinations. Over 56 per cent of the holidaymakers in the EU chose to book their own holidays online with 16 per cent booking through travel agencies and the rest through a package tour or online travel provider.
We are living in times of change, we have already experienced this change in these islands over the past two years since the introduction of low cost airlines to Malta. Visitors are making use of online facilities and sites to learn more about the islands as well as to confirm bookings such as travel and accommodation. The world wide web is reaching out to a broader cross section of the core markets in Europe and developing more interest in specialised areas such as sports, heritage, diving and walking holidays. The move to make these islands a more IT based state for developing service industries such as finance and tourism has helped create a new opportunity for tourism to the islands – over the past years we have seen a surge in websites for the hospitality sector as well as for attractions and historical sites, we need to enhance this development now by offering the concept of the “one-stop-shop” whereby visitors to any site on Malta and Gozo as well as referring to attractions and heritage sites will be able to check hotel and travel availability as well as specialised packages for a three day, nine day or ten day holiday.
“Change happens” and we need to be sharp enough to change with the times, this is only possible if we invest part of our time in research and development of the tourism market and industry.