The Report Company: You recently said that after Brexit, Malta will offer British tourists the same conditions as they have now. What does that mean in practice, and how is Malta going to move past Brexit?
Edward Zammit-Lewis: When the results of the referendum were published, we were taken by surprise. The United Kingdom is a very important partner for Malta, and we definitely wanted it to remain within the European Union (EU). Irrespective of the outcome, our ties will persist in every sense. Politically, commercially, culturally, historically and socially, the United Kingdom is an irreplaceable partner above and beyond the phenomena of Brexit. Malta believes that both the EU and the United Kingdom have a common interest in maintaining a good relationship, not only at a diplomatic level, but also in practical terms with regard to trade and commerce.
In this context, Malta has a strategic interest because a quarter of our tourism in summer arrives from the United Kingdom, a figure which goes up to between 35% and 40% in winter. These figures represent Malta's heavy dependency on the United Kingdom, even though it is less than it used to be. Ten years ago, our dependency on the UK market was higher. But to address this situation we embarked on a process of diversification, opening other essential secondary source markets that are producing good and steady results.
Recalling my speech in Parliament, I stated that Malta has to ensure that the British tourist remains on a level playing field with anyone else arriving from the EU. Basically, since 80% of our tourists arrive from the EU and all European citizens are protected through the travel package directive, Malta has to strive to do whatever is necessary to negotiate a similar package through bilateral agreements. It is in everyone's interest that the British tourist is well protected, leaving each individual with a positive sense that the status quo has been maintained.
The first direct impact that was felt as a result of Brexit regarding tourism was, intrinsically, the devaluation of the Pound Sterling versus the Euro. It had an immediate effect as we observed a decrease in tourist expenditure despite registering the expected number of arrivals. At face value, this gave us cause for concern, and we promptly started working on it. We have highly qualified staff situated in London, monitoring the situation of the British market on a daily basis. We are also working intensively to exploit the possibilities offered by the World Travel Market trade show. Irrespective of all of this, I believe that the situation will once again stabilise and that there will not be any significant adverse impact on our tourism sector.