If you switch on your TV and zap through channels randomly, chances are you’ll be able to spot military action within the first twenty seconds of doing so.
Whilst chances are that the circumstances surrounding what you will see are nothing short of tragic, it’s also a fact that the military, especially the military of bygone days, holds a certain fascination for certain people. So much so, that they are willing to travel for it.
The Journal spoke to the Malta Tourism Authority about military tourism and learnt that it could be Malta’s next big thing, being an island that has plenty of military history to its name.
Of niches and segments
‘Niche tourism’ gives the opportunity to a destination to showcase its potential for a particular niche of customers, or tourists. It enables destinations like ours to promote themselves among specific groups of people, who are ready to spend more for the experience they are after.
“Our strategy is not only geographically planned and demographically targeted, but also motivation-driven,” said the MTA. Therefore, niche and motivation marketing are essential when engaging with potential visitors. To this effect, the MTA has recently introduced ‘segments’ to each of its geographical marketing units. In time, they plan to develop ‘segment experts’ who serve as a reference point for the trade and the Authority’s employees.
The MTA has identified segments that have gained, or are gaining, most popularity and are therefore essential elements of our product offer: heritage, gastronomy and wine, active – sea, active – land, LGBTIQ+, film, English language teaching, faith, and Gozo.
“Gozo, of course, is not exactly a segment, but we want to ensure that we give Gozo its deserved attention as a distinct destination to mainland Malta,” explained the Authority.
While some of these segments have been well established for some time, gastronomy & wine, active-land, LGBTIQ+, film, and faith are gaining popularity and are being promoted more consistently.
How, we ask? “We organise gastronomic and sport events, we have established several brand partnerships, we attend specific niche fairs, we carry extensive digital campaigns, we use traditional media like print, radio, and TV, and we also host media and influencers specialised in the individual segments,” explained the Authority.
Niche tourism doesn’t come without its challenges, either. Sports tourism, for example, is prone to occasional shortages in infrastructure for specific sports. This is due to the shared use of facilities by local teams and athletes, as well as for community competitions. Additional challenges across all sectors include budget constraints, connectivity issues in long-haul markets, along with visa procedures posing difficulties in certain regions.
What is military tourism?
It’s a specific niche. Also known as war tourism or battlefield tourism, it refers to the act of traveling to destinations with historical significance related to military events, conflicts, and war. These types of tourists are interested in exploring sites, museums, and memorials associated with military history.
Why would they want to do that? There are many interesting reasons. Firstly, military history is filled with compelling stories of courage, heroism, sacrifice, and tragedy, and people are naturally drawn to narratives that involve the human experience. Other people are attracted by the strategic and tactical complexity of military campaigns, whilst some are intrigued by the progression of weaponry, tactics, and innovations in military technology, from ancient times to modern warfare.
Then there’s the human element, since wars and military conflicts have profound effects on societies and cultures. For many, military history is intertwined with national identity and pride. Not to mention that military history often showcases the role of leadership in times of crisis. People may also have a personal connection to military history through ancestors who served in wars.
Another possible reason is the world of entertainment: people may watch movies or read books that are either fictional, fact-based, or a bit of both. Either way, Malta might have featured and captured their imagination, or sparked their interest, which translates into a visit.
Whatever the reason, the MTA believes that it’s a win for Malta. “Persons travelling to Malta for the purpose of military tourism are important for the industry. Just like any other tourist, they invest in hotels, restaurants, experiences, transport, and retail. Military tourism can certainly become an important niche for our islands as such niche is expected to attract tourism traffic away from the hot peak summer months,” said the MTA.
We ask the MTA how Malta plans to effectively balance promoting military tourism whilst being sensitive to the historical context and the potential emotional impact on visitors.
“Promoting military tourism while retaining sensitivity to the historical context and potential emotional impact on visitors, is something that is mostly shouldered by curators of sites or museums, as well as by the professionally certified tourist guides,” replied the Authority.
“Such professionals are astute enough to present undisputable historical facts while, considering the nationality or background of their audience, then move to find the positive outcomes or lessons learnt from these historical events, which contributed positively to our Islands today. The emotionally intelligent manner and sensitivity of communicating events of the past, through stories, anecdotes and links between persons, sites, artefacts, and any positive outcome from the events, is only achievable through in-depth studies and awareness carried out by the curators and tour guides and is what sets us apart from other destinations,” the MTA added.
If you were a military tourist, here’s what you would do.
You would probably be interested in The Great Siege of 1565, The French occupation, and World War II. The three periods of history can be experienced thanks to the many sites and areas that still exist on the islands today. But we asked the MTA to be more specific and prepare a little itinerary for our readers, near and far, who might be into their military history. Here’s what the Authority suggested:
1. Spend an afternoon visiting Mdina. Its layout and architecture, featuring narrow winding streets and high defensive walls, reflect the medieval and Renaissance military strategies aimed at creating strongholds that were difficult for enemies to navigate. Mdina played a role in various historical battles and conflicts. Notably, during the Great Siege in 1565, the city faced a significant threat from the Ottoman Empire. The successful defence of Mdina and the island as a whole against the Ottoman forces was a crucial turning point, not only in the history of Malta, but for all of Europe.
2. Visit the fortifications around Valletta, which were designed by Francesco Laparelli to protect the city from Ottoman attacks. Valletta served as a crucial naval base for various naval powers over the centuries, including the Knights of St. John, the French, and the British. Not to mention that Valletta played a pivotal role during World War II, particularly in the defence of Malta against Axis forces.
3. Explore the vast number of fortifications around the islands that where primary designed and constructed by Order of St John and afterwards modified by the British during the Georgian and the Victorian period. Fort Delimara and Fort Manoel are just two examples.
4. Walk along the Victoria Lines. Built between 1875 and 1899 during the British colonial period, the Victoria Lines were part of the broader fortification efforts aimed at enhancing Malta’s defences. Malta was a strategic naval base for the British Empire in the Mediterranean, and the fortifications were intended to safeguard the island against potential threats.
5. Discover the vast number of watchtowers and pillboxes along the Maltese coast that were constructed during the Knights and continued by the British. Pillboxes in a military context typically refer to small concrete structures, often fortified and equipped with openings for weapons, used as defensive positions. In the context of military installations in Malta, pillboxes were constructed as part of the island’s defence infrastructure, particularly during World War II.
Main photo: Heritage Malta