Working For a Sustainable Future
July 18, 2017
By Paul Bugeja
CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority
Overlooking the sea and the tiny island of Cominotto from Comino
IMAGE: Wladimir Bulgar
Tourism remains a major driving force of the Maltese economy, representing 29% of our Gross Domestic Product. Over the past few years, the Maltese Islands have been registering progressive growth in tourism performance at every level. This culminated in a record-breaking 2016, during which arrivals almost reached the 2 million mark,registering a 10.5% increase when compared to the previous year.
These year-on-year increases, no doubt have a positive impact on the economy, in terms of revenue generation, job creation and other parameters. However, the increased influx of visitors also exerts added pressure on the islands’ infrastructure and environment. It is with this in mind that the Malta Tourism Authority, and stakeholders both private and public, are working together to secure a sustainable tourism product and limit as much as possible the negative impact of tourism on our islands.
The Grand Harbour
IMAGE: Clive Vella / VIEWINGMALTA.COM
Malta is small in size and lacks any large stretches of remote, natural areas or the presence of large wildlife fauna that make good candidates for ecotourism projects. However, within this limited territory, there are many areas that need protection, nurturing, proper management and interpretation. And this is where MTA is actively intervening, together with interested parties within government as well as relevant NGOs.
In general, the Environmental Authorities use Natura 2000 site protection and other protocols to designate special areas of conservation. The MTA participates actively in the management of one of the sites located in Pembroke. The Pembroke Garigue Heritage Park is a Natura 2000 site and has been the subject of an EU-funded project that resulted in the implementation of a 2.5km reversible cycle path across the site and the restoration of substantial parts of the site both from a natural point of view and as regards the restoration of small heritage buildings on the site. The Minister for Tourism inaugurated this project in 2014 and the MTA is still sponsoring its upkeep. The NGOs Nature Trust and Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna spearheaded this project.
MTA is also helping Nature Trust to implement other similar projects in southern area of Delimara and expand the existing park of Xrobb l-Għaġin. MTA is also involved in rural initiatives that help remote areas become accessible to tourists who are fond of walking and discovering different environments. In view of this the MTA set up a number of rural walks in the South and West of Malta and implemented upgrades of rural pockets in the villages of Qrendi, Safi and Zurrieq.
The Mediterranean Sea seen from the shores of Gozo
IMAGE: Henry Oude Egberink
The quality of water is also an important aspect in the sustainability of our tourism product and following investment in the purification process of sewage at the various outfalls, the quality of bathing waters around the Maltese Islands has improved and is now considered one of the best in Europe. This is also being reinforced by the increase in the number of Blue Flags that are being awarded to local beaches.
In this regard, the MT A manages a number of beaches and helps the Ministry for Gozo and an NGO – The Gaia Foundation – to manage other beaches in Malta, Comino and Gozo. A number of these beaches have also been awarded the coveted Blue Flag.
Our Lady of Lourdes Chapel in Għajnsielem overlooking Mġarr Harbour
IMAGE: Cristian Balate Photography
On the tourist accommodation side, MTA’s Eco-Certification scheme was launched in 2002 with the intention of creating more awareness and promoting good environmental practice amongst hotel operators. Over the years, this voluntary national scheme has expanded from just hotels to include other forms of accommodation and is credited with raising standards in environmental practices within this fundamentally important sector.
The Basilica of the National Shrine of the Blessed Virgin of Ta' Pinu
IMAGE: Cristian Balate Photography
It is a known fact that the demand for greener travel will continue to increase in the future, and so will the expectations of ‘green’ travellers, who will demand more than the traditional water and energy saving measures. Whilst these developments will put destinations and travel companies under increased scrutiny by discerning holidaymakers, destinations and service providers who demonstrate a tangible commitment to the natural environment will become more attractive propositions. Nurturing and protecting the environment is a way in which we can all help secure a sustainable future for tourism.
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