The tourism industry today is plagued with strong elements of economic stress – recessions, economies of scale, marketing trends and such like. It is almost as though these elements have taken over as the core factors which dictate how and why tourism activity is successful. This obsession with the economic benefits of tourism has turned a socio-educational activity into a financial nightmare that has dictated how and when destinations should promote and plan their tourism strategies and itineraries. But honestly, should tourism not be more of a personal affair? Should we not be promoting and creating more unique and individual packages for the various segments of society depending on their interests and abilities? Surely, by creating these market opportunities (a much used word today is “Niche” market) we can determine when people prefer to travel, we can even out the peaks and troughs of our carrying capacities and, more than that, we can provide the visitor a better experience of the destination he or she chooses along with a quality service.
The present strategy of looking at the tourism peaks and the tourism troughs (another buzz word today is “shoulder months” - which always gives me the impression we are parked idly along a motorway, cars whizzing past us and we are rearing to go back into the peak season – a rather reactive picture, I’m afraid!) means that during the three or four months of summer we are working as hard as beavers to make up for the rest of the year when we do, most times, simply break even. And all this because these islands have an enormous dependence on the tourism industry (25 per cent of GDP compared to an EU average of some 12 per cent) and our industry is not seasonal by nature. But all this energy we use in the peak months has tired us out, we cannot really see the wood from the trees and we have lost sight of the core competence of the industry - giving visitors a unique experience of the Maltese islands through its history, culture, character and tradition and this means we have the opportunity of developing social, responsible and relational tourism in the fullest way. We have not got tourism enclaves, visitors here mingle with the locals and share services and sites, they can eat much the same food and drink from the same wines and beverages – our towns and villages offer the potential for “Living History” if we could only open out in a more diverse manner – through a sharing of our indigenous or localised customs and by creating an attraction through stories, legends and persons – then we will also be offering the real sense of hospitality and service which so many travelogue writers and journalists used to praise so highly in the pioneering years of the Modern Tourism age in the sixties!
Something which many politicians, the world over, tend to make such a fuss about during their campaigns and general constituency “walkabouts” is this feeling of “being close to the people” and this is one of those unique selling principles that these islands can offer the visitor who wants to be here – so many of these tourists are impressed by our towns, villages, buses and even some of our vintage cars - there was a time when one attraction was the gaily painted trucks that were used by construction workers, vegetable vendors and even bakers – but, alas, these are now restricted to the annals of some book or museum.
So if we want to avoid the peaks and troughs of the tourism industry we need to rediscover our living history and promote the real Malta and Gozo.