Monday, 22 February 2016

Malta – The ups and downs of the tourist industry

February 13-21

Hello everyone!

The Maltese archipelago is situated roughly 100km south of Italy. It advertises itself as having over 300 days of sunshine every year and possesses many natural beaches with different colours of sand and sea. It is little wonder, therefore, that Malta is a popular tourist destination.

According to the steps in the airport, over 4 million people pass through Malta’s only airport every year. The population of the country was approximately 423,000 in 2013. Simply put, that is a massive influx. Most will visit in summer, when the temperature soars well above the 15°C (apparently this is the mildest winter Malta has experienced in decades) which this week has averaged.

Image from the Times of Malta showing Comino in the summer

We were staying out of season, which resulted in having copious space on the most popular beaches and being able to eat at restaurants without making reservations. We were able to visit Malta’s most spectacular scenery, such as the Azure Window in western Gozo, in relative peace.

The Azure Window, Gozo

Ramla Bay, Gozo
That’s not to say that we were the only tourists here. Our flight from Frankfurt was full and we met many British families enjoying their half-term break in the southern sunshine. It made me wonder, however, what the tourist hotspots such as St. Julian’s and the main beaches must be like in June, July and August. The thought, and volume of people, sent shivers down my spine. Sardines on a small island.

Image from the Times of Malta showing a Maltese beach during the summer
Malta has built its economy on tourism. It’s understandable why they chose this path; there are monstrous profits to be made from the industry. As a visitor, it makes life much easier, which I know and accept.

Mellieha has a great reputation

In the days before the internet, this was how many tourists and expats kept up with news at home

Yet it also spoils the landscape and forces many into an industry they would rather avoid. Hotels looming large and casting shadows over beaches. Narrow roads clogged with numerous sightseeing buses which are far too big. Prices rising to the point that we didn’t visit the ancient temples on Gozo. I also can’t shake the images of ‘lads on tour’ holidays when pondering a Maltese summer.

The Radisson Blu hotel hanging over the Golden Bay beach, Malta

This problem is certainly not restricted to Malta. I would also be a hypocrite to criticise as it makes it much easier for me to visit these places. What I don’t like is when it starts to affect the very things – and people – which people are visiting for.

The other thing we noticed as we drove around Malta is how seasonal the tourists must be. Some restaurants, which would undoubtedly be heaving in the summer months, were permanently closed during our time here. Some areas resembled ghost towns at times, with very little happening and very few people walking around.

A popular restaurant which was available to let in Mellieha
The main anomaly to all of this was the capital, Valletta. This did not strike me as being geared towards tourists. In fact, Valletta gave off the impression of a working capital city. It was busy but the noise was coming from locals doing their business rather than invaders snapping selfies.

The main street passing through Valletta

A car park in Valletta with Fort St. Elmo in the background
I don’t know if I would want to visit Malta in the summer. It would be a completely different experience and one which summons negative images in my mind: cramped beach space, no parking, and fewer places to escape to relative quiet. I’m very happy that we visited out of season, allowing us the freedom to move around and explore this lovely country.

Ships in the Cottonera in February - imagine this in July...

Beautiful Gozo
Love you all


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