Tourism: Creating innovation and increasing stakeholder involvement
In this year that has been dedicated to innovation and creativity by the European Union, the tourism industry in Malta and Gozo is just ripe for a complete regeneration of its core products and services - but it takes initiative, motivation and incentive to fulfil this challenge. We could say that the incentives are available, in the form of grants and funds through the European Union Programmes and Projects. The primary motivation could be the very fact that many more people could benefit from the socio-economic activity referred to as Tourism – thus making the multiplier effect a lot broader and diverse. The initiative depends on the driving power of the workforce and the investors to create new openings and seize the opportunities.
What would it take to be so creative, so innovative and increase that stakeholder involvement? We have the perception that this requires millions of euros and hours of painful sacrifice to make things happen. The painful sacrifice is a necessity that will pay off if it is directed and focussed at clear and studied objectives, but the fact that every innovation has to cost millions of euros is, perhaps, a misconception. Ideas require a little thought and imagination, many of the inventions of the modern age started off with a little thought that was followed by some endless hours in experimentation and testing to make sure that the idea was practical. So how can those who are not involved directly in the tourism industry benefit from innovation and creativity?
The tourism industry is built on the four essential factors of hospitality, service, education and leisure which were the real reasons why people travelled from country to country in the past. Before that there were two basic reasons for cross border travel - and these included Conquest and Trade which, today, may be interpreted in terms of business and commercial travel. But there is a common denominator which cuts across all these factors and that is the fact that all visitors require some kind of service or another whether this includes a bed for the night, a place to rest, subsistence, transport or, more recently, a good wi-fi service – that should all be provided by the host country or destination. Over the years we have moved back and forward from those who are looking for individual attention and superior service whether in a hotel or with a family of great influence to that individual who is happy to be part of a visitor group accommodated in a budget hotel and enjoying the simple leisure pleasantries such as the sun and the sea – in a few words, the mass tourist. Today many are rekindling happy memories of their individualism as tourists; they prefer to travel on low cost airlines, stay in more homely accommodation or small hotels and blend in with the local resident and discover the authentic and unique characteristic lifestyle, traditions, culture and food which the destination can offer. If we want to benefit from this change in trends then we need to look within our own resources, our own localities and our own characteristic landscapes to identify those USPs which we hear about so often. There is a way this can be done using the model for Local Agenda 21 which creates sustainable localities and ensures characteristic and unique landscapes are not marred by over development and commercialisation. It means that we need to utilise all the core competencies and capabilities of those local residents who have a genuine interest in being hospitable; we need to develop the knowledge of those who have the potential to inform visitors; we need to give incentive for traditional shops to offer local produce, food and beverage to visitors within their own indigenous surroundings. In other words, we need to be true Maltese and Gozitans.