Kudos to the Spaniards

Can Malta afford to take in more than three million tourists annually?

At the very mention of the word ‘holidays’, whichever season of the year, Spain readily comes up to one’s mind, at the top of the destination list with Italy, France, and Greece. Not only is tourism a huge pillar of the Spanish economy, but the trend has been on the up and up since the epidemic. The value of goods and services offered by the tourism sector in Spain increased by more than 60% in 2022, recovering entirely from the impact of the coronavirus. The sector is back to being one of the leading engines of growth for the Iberian country.

In 2023, the Spanish tourism GDP went over the pre-pandemic level of almost €155 billion going straight into the national coffers. But suddenly, people’s perception of the industry has been changing and the tourism authorities are being asked to rethink everything, to make sure an overgrowth is not achieved at the expense of the quality of life of the Spanish people and their environment.

Some of Spain’s most popular hotspots have recently been shaken by protests against mass tourism. In the Spanish-owned Canary Islands, thousands protested hotly against mass tourism under the banner “Your leisure, our misery”. The Canarians appreciate the importance of the tourism industry, but they simply have had enough of the exaggerations, with development projects eating out precious spots on most of the islands. Yes, they have jobs, but they also have families to shelter.

This protest movement is catching on fast. The Mayor of Barcelona, certainly one of the most visited cities in the world, has just come out vowing to abolish short-term holiday lets to tourists by 2028. This ambitious, albeit drastic, move by Mayor Jaume Collboni reveals the current state of mind in most big tourism hotspots. Barcelona is struggling to grapple with soaring housing costs, making it unliveable for local residents. Sounds familiar, I guess.
Collboni is determined to scrap the licences of no less than 10,101 apartments currently approved as short-term rentals. By 2028, if you want to visit Barcelona as a tourist there will be no alternative to different grades of hotels, holiday complexes, and luxury villas.

Jaume Collboni, Mayor of Seville

If successful, this is a trend which is expected to be replicated across Spain’s major city attractions, like Seville, Malaga, San Sebastian, Valencia, and possibly the capital, Madrid. It follows the hyped up decision by the Venetian authorities to limit the number of tourists going into Venice on one-day tours, often crippling up the whole process of preservation, efficiency, and crowd discipline.

Writing all this keeps bringing me back home. In proportionate terms, the Maltese economy is also heavily dependent on the tourism industry, and people of goodwill celebrate the success that has been achieved since the Covid-19 epidemic. But has the time come for applying the brakes, and in what manner? Three million tourists are expected to have visited Malta by the end of this year. That is a hefty figure for an archipelago the size of a provincial city in Europe.

So many flats have been built over the past few years that there inevitably already exists a glut which needs to be addressed. There is no escaping people and cranes anywhere on these Islands, the traffic has become horrendous, and the list of locals in need of housing assistance remains high despite the valiant efforts of Minister Roderick Galdes and the entities under his management. Some sort of public-private initiative of a bigger dimension than the current one that has made its good contribution to lower-income families and individuals seeking a decent home for themselves, could be contemplated. Hundreds of empty flats strictly for tourists and foreigners is an abhorrence. Such a pity also, the obnoxious Siggiewi story of State-built homes had to become a political issue during the recent electoral campaign.

Photo: Mark Zammit Cordina/Times of Malta

There should be no doubt the tourism authorities and all stakeholders in the sector are highly aware of the red alert that is about to sound in the not too distant future. Can Malta afford to take in more than three million tourists annually? Shouldn’t we just stick to the latest level as we address the necessity of offering better quality in our services and infrastructure, and less package tourism? It is a huge dilemma for a lilliputian country, but not insurmountable.

Play it again, Sam

It is always easy for people from all political sides to suggest “wondrous” things their own favourite party failed or refused to address. The latest trend has been to call for the political radio and TV media to be closed down, by mutual consent of course. The latest rallying cry came from former TV personality Lou Bondì during last week’s fourth edition of the State of the Nation. He had been preceded by ex-Opposition leader Simon Busuttil.

When such calls are made, do any of these preachers ever think of the many employees and their familes that the parties, by hook or by crook, manage to provide a living for? Or should we expect every one of them to receive a golden handshake the bizarre type of which Bondì himself got soon after the 2013 general election?

Love them or hate them, the political stations are here to stay. I can’t see the parties agreeing on the issue of their closure, especially since we all know they have, over the years, been instrumental in the parties’ successes, such as Labour in 1996 and 2013, and the PN in 1998. One also has to keep in mind that, as in the case with newspapers, so-called independent radio and TV stations (particularly the Church’s own blessed media) are all PN-inclined and without the political stations another atrocious democratic imbalance would be created.

Image: Lovin Malta

Main photo: Lluis Gene, AFP 

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