Dr Edward Zammit-Lewis
Minister of Tourism, Malta
Dr Edward Zammit-Lewis was named tourism minister in 2014, and also holds responsibility for Malta's thriving Film and Aviation industries within his portfolio. He spoke to The Report Company about what Brexit means for the Maltese tourism sector, which relies on the British market for up to 40% of its visitors, and outlined the key points of Malta's tourism offer.
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.
TRC: What will the relationship with the UK look like in terms of tourism?
EZL: Our relationship with the United Kingdom is very strong and, clearly, we cannot afford not to further develop this advantage at a bilateral level. Malta is a member of the Commonwealth, giving us a different forum through which we can benefit by promoting our robust relationship with the United Kingdom.

Unquestionably, the package that Malta will offer the British tourist will include consumer rights, air traffic rights, hotel bookings and insurance policies. Another essential issue that needs to be addressed is surely that of freedom of movement, something that will be tempered as a result of Brexit.

Furthermore, the British community in Malta is our largest foreign community, going back many years. British citizens have blended into our society to the extent that you can also find British families residing in remote places on our island of Gozo. We have to be conscious of them and we will surely make the necessary arrangements to accommodate the needs of all.
TRC: Do you see a possibility that a UK tourist could enter Malta without having to request a visa?
EZL: Not only do I foresee it, but I will work relentlessly to bring this about. Such a situation would erect a wall impeding tourist arrivals in Malta. This is a picture which we cannot afford to contemplate at this stage, and we will work hard to keep the status quo.
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.

Dr Edward Zammit-Lewis, Minister of Tourism
TRC: How can Malta position itself toward higher-value tourism?
EZL: This is a natural process, but I am very aware of its importance. In fact, we are currently only reaching a limited section of the UK market. Malta is very popular amongst citizens from the British Midlands and the North, most of whom are senior citizens. Although we are interested in maintaining this market, we are gradually repositioning ourselves to attract tourists who are drawn by our calendar of events and cultural activities, who visit for business meetings, who are rather more sophisticated with a different perspective on life, and those looking for an experience, rather than simply a holiday in the traditional sense.

In recent years we have managed to attract a major event in the month of April, namely the Annie Mac music festival, targeting a distinct UK niche market. Apart from this, we have also worked to create and host other events targeting younger generations, such as the Isle of MTV. We are continually working to change our branding and market Malta on a different level in the UK market.

Another important area that we are focusing on, and which is throwing up very good results, is the LGBTIQ market. Malta completely recognises the assertion of equal rights, creating a sense of belonging for people while travelling.
TRC: What is your main focus for the coming months?
EZL: This year Malta will be hosting the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, which is certainly a challenge for us as the smallest country in the EU. This is the biggest political event since Bush and Gorbachev met in Malta in 1989, and the most important one since our accession in 2004. Notwithstanding the challenges that arise, we are well prepared for it as we have expanded the knowledge of our team by doing the necessary training.
TRC: How can the tourism industry leverage on Malta's membership of the Commonwealth?
EZL: We see a lot of advantages. Malta must remain a relevant player, not only at an EU level, but most importantly, at an international level. In fact, it is also an integral pillar of our foreign policy that we should not limit ourselves to the EU, but on the contrary, we must strive for the international dimension. The Commonwealth must be understood as a great opportunity for tourism, in the sense that Malta can develop further its ties with countries like Canada, India and Australia, bearing different positive results.
Malta completely recognises the assertion of equal rights, creating a sense of belonging for people while travelling.
Dr Edward Zammit-Lewis, Minister of Tourism
TRC: What are the competitive advantages of Malta as a tourism destination?
EZL: Malta is iconic, but Europe is no less appealing. In fact, it is a challenge for us every year to compete for our market share. However, I believe that we are succeeding in this regard.

As regards our main strengths, I believe that we are very advanced in the tourism sector. People in Malta are all, in one way or another, influenced by or have the possibility of influencing the tourism sector. Malta is nothing like Germany where tourism is important only in one small region. On the contrary, all Maltese citizens understand the importance of tourism for our country. The whole country is geared towards tourism, so much so that this government does not have only a minister for tourism; it is a government for tourism.
TRC: What is your outlook for next year for Malta as it holds the EU Council presidency? What are the challenges the country will face?
ES: I hope that by the end of those six months we would have surprised people. We are observant, sensitive, and very fair. I think people will find that if they had to choose, they would not have found a better country to lead them as a very fair and honest broker during those six months.

We are aware that there are some topics which big countries find awkward at this time, and it is a delicate balance to keep between keeping to regulations so that they remain meaningful, while at the same time, many countries are having difficulties. If you step on the brake too much in these countries, you are going to hurt them. At the same time, you don't want to alienate the people any more with dreams of things which would never come around. I can explain Brexit because of that, I can explain Le Pen; it's all about people being frustrated and fearful.

There are core things for us, beside the economic side where we believe in the Capital Markets Union, but I think we need security and migration on top, because unless we address those issues, we cannot talk of other things.
TRC: What are the fundamentals of the Malta tourism brand?
EZL: People might expect something totally different from an island between the southern part of Europe and North Africa, but I believe that our biggest strength is diversity. Malta can mean different things to different people; business for the financial services and diversity, sun and sea, prehistoric heritage, Baroque culture or entertainment for other kinds of visitor. Our strongest brand abroad is the tourism sector. No other industry in Malta is so strong internationally.
People might expect something totally different from an island between the southern part of Europe and North Africa, but I believe that our biggest strength is diversity.
Dr Edward Zammit-Lewis
Minister of Tourism
TRC: What are your priorities for the tourism sector?
EZL: We have four main priorities. Firstly, this year we have to reach the figure of two million tourists in Malta, which is basically five times our population. We will be at almost full supply, and we will be even stronger in winter.

The second is that of seasonality. We have reached a point where we can boast that we are the least seasonal destination in the Mediterranean due to an increase in various winter activities. We have also worked a lot on air connectivity to entice private foreign airlines to visit not only in summer, but also in winter and shoulder months. In fact, during the next winter we will observe an increase in airline capacity of 20%, which will certainly boost tourist arrivals.

The third priority is our product. We have to polish the Maltese gem by working harder on maintenance and upkeep. To do this, we have a series of initiatives aiming specifically at improving our tourism product.

The last but by no means the least priority is investment in human capital. On the one hand, we have a flourishing tourism sector. But on the other, we are not achieving the right results in terms of attracting the younger generation to invest their future in the tourism industry. It is part of our economic success that we have an unemployment rate of almost zero in Malta. But this situation is enticing young people to seek better-paid jobs. This creates competition between industries, which is why it is necessary to have concrete measures, such as the €60 million investment in the new Institute of Tourism Studies at the Smart City complex.
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