In an exclusive interview with Horeca Magazine, the Hon Minister Clayton Bartolo outlines the schemes in place as the Hospitality and Tourism industries fight to overcome the pandemic crisis.
It’s stating the obvious that your appointment
comes at the worst time in Malta’s tourism
industry; can you briefly outline what the
situation looked like from your perspective
when you were appointed Tourism Minister?
I look at this as an opportunity which has been
entrusted to me during this delicate situation. I
am privileged to be working with a very good
team of professionals who are leaving no stone
unturned to get tourism back on its feet. I thank
Prime Minister Robert Abela for selecting me
for this task and declare my full commitment to
doing my utmost towards recovering tourism
with a view to making it even stronger and
more resilient in the coming years.
Soon after your appointment you said you
supported your predecessor’s so-called
“mechanisms”. The consensus is that these
failed; you disagreed and are reported as
saying “what we are doing is trying to find a
balance between the livelihoods and the lives of
Maltese.” What did you mean by this?
We need to acknowledge that this has been a
very challenging crisis both in terms of scale
and timeframe. Managing a crisis involves
employing the right balance of socio-economic
decisions which address the emergency without
unnecessarily stopping the pace of life. This is
not about success or failure, but based on using
the best available information to take the best
Last year you announced that an action plan
would be launched in 2021. And
you are quoted as saying that “talks are
underway with all concerned parties to lay
out a strategy that attracts numbers but
also lays emphasis on excellence”. Can you
We have launched a ten year Tourism Strategy
that will take us to 2030. This strategy document, entitled “Recover, Rethink,
Revitalise” aims to form the basis of a wide
discussion with a scope of providing the Malta
Tourism industry with a sound platform from
which to recover the losses inflicted by the
COVID-19 pandemic whilst taking decisive
steps to strengthen Tourism’s economic and
social awareness and sensitivity and a quest
to grow Tourism’s contribution beyond mere
volumes by attracting a higher spending tourist.
We have also unveiled the Tourism Recovery
Plan which includes a €20 million financial aid
programme aimed at putting back on track our
What do you mean by excellence - is it a better
spending visitor or a better quality product?
Excellence means reaching or exceeding
the expectations of a visitor who pays good
money and expects to receive good value. It
involves the perfect match of a spending visitor
who both expects and affords a better quality
product. Excellence becomes self-sustaining
when well managed: a positive circle where a
better product attracts a higher spending tourist
who in turn leads to further investment in a
Has the opening of several new hotels last
year highlighted the need for numbers moving
The major objective of the Tourism Recovery
Plan is to recover volumes within the shortest
realistic time frame possible.
Improving the ‘quality of the tourist’, ‘going
upmarket’, ‘niche marketing’ and improving
the product have been the catch phrases for
decades - how is it going to be different this
These are processes which have no end. As
a destination we have been improving our
tourism by addressing all of them and the
important thing is that we continue to observe
progress. In spite of registered progress we
still consider such objectives as relevant in our
tourism industry’s evolution and hence we continue prioritizing them. It is not about being
different it is about adding additional layers to
the achievements made to date.
Put another way, do you think the current
situation places us in a position where we can
press the reset button and start from scratch?
Whilst inbound activity is at a standstill, the
destination’s offer meaning supply is what it
is. Resetting from scratch is only feasible if
both sides of the coin are resettable which they
are not. That is why our strategy talks about
Rethinking, Revitalising but not Resetting.
As an island destination we are at the mercy of
the airlines and the situation prevailing
in our markets. Several European countries
and others beyond have banned flights from the
UK because of Covid-19 strain variants. The UK
remains our biggest market, with nearly double
the number of arrivals than any other up to
October - what does Malta do next if we block
UK arrivals for the foreseeable future?
Our plans are to re-establish our airline
connectivity with all our major source markets
including the UK as quickly as possible. The
pace of vaccination will have a huge bearing on
our reopening prospects in the coming weeks.
The fact that the UK is advanced in its vaccine
roll out is also very encouraging in this respect.
Besides the drop in leisure travellers, the DMC
and English language schools sectors have
taken a massive hit in 2020. Some DMCs report
that the first conference and incentive trips are
booked from the end of 2021, and language
schools are in the doldrums - are you looking at
ways and means to assist these sectors, and if
Among other initiatives, we have launched a
scheme by which students who come to Malta
to study English in language schools are set
to receive €10 per night spent in the country.
Students are eligible for this scheme if they
spend at least 15 nights at a booked language
school, and will be capped at €300 per student.
On a positive note, some months ago the MTA
set a target of 700,000 visitors for 2020 - that
target appears to have been achieved, has a
target been set for 2021?
Our target for 2021 is to ensure that we will
be ready to start attracting tourists from the
moment that the markets open up again. We
are primed to start targeting those geographical
markets, age-groups and travel motivations
which are expected to be the earliest
respondents to travel opportunities to ensure
that we maximise our receptive potential.