Tourism is all about being hospitable, offering visitors a warm welcome, affording excellent services and above all making anyone feel really at home, and this means that we have to offer them the real culture, traditions and characteristics that form part of a living history experience. But wait a minute, to do all this is quite a tall order for many. It means we not only have to offer a bed and, at least one hot meal a day, but that we need to let them into our lives if they are to experience the diversity that our islands really offer – then why have we been so hell bent in promoting and projecting our image and national identity over the last forty years as simply a great place to bask in the sun, swim in the sea and swig down pint after pint of the local brew? The question is...do we have an identity crisis here?
The truth is, we need to understand just what our identity is really about. We do have a clear identity as a nation and this was made clear forty five years ago when, for the first time, we shed our role as a dominion state and became a sovereign state. Some people, even at that time, were sceptical that we had the ability to fulfil this important role (this even included our own countrymen and women). Forty five years on, we proved that, through thick and thin, we did manage to create a successful island state that can live up to the expectations of its larger neighbours, we are members of one of the fastest growing socio-economic blocs today, the European Union; we have integrated well into the eurozone and we still managed to keep our typical characteristics and traditions as well as our diverse culture and history. What we need now is not reassurance that we have an identity but the courage to feel comfortable with this unique and indigenous quality – yes, we are Europeans, yes, the majority of our population are skilled and educated and yes we do enjoy the quality of life of any developed country today – but overall we are Maltese and Gozitan, with our own language and particular habits and traditions – let us not forget this.
But our identity is not just about those qualities that we enjoy as a nation – traditions, language, history and culture – it is about our living history; it is about the legends, the stories, the characteristics of our own towns and villages, it is about breathing life back into the old buildings, about regenerating not just restoring these edifices; it is about having a sense of civic pride in the environment just outside our very doorsteps – it is not about thinking the grass is greener in our neighbour’s backyard, but knowing that our own grass is really our own and being proud of what it is.
We may be paying lip service to this identity issue, we may say we are proud of our history and traditions, we may even expound our greatness to visitors, but we have to remember that having an identity has to be instilled in our very souls, it needs to be nurtured each day until it becomes second nature – it is not something we do whenever we feel like it – at sporting events, music festivals or even when we are on holiday. Identity is a quality that distinguishes us from other nations in the Mediterranean, it is what creates the diversity we speak of in any tourism product or experience.
Perhaps our biggest proof that we acknowledge this identity would be when we decide on that one national day for our islands – the day we became an independent and sovereign state, this is not a day for political activities, it is a day that all Maltese and Gozitans need to celebrate in every town and village in their own unique and individual way – that is what made us the proud and successful island state we are today.