Malta’s authorities are putting out the message that the islands are open for tourism business as always, whatever action the region is seeing since the Libyan crisis erupted. Life goes on the same as before…
Certainly at face value, and judging by the vox pop above, day to day a tourist isn’t going to see any changes here.
Most of those in the film were either already here on February 17th – the catalytic day of rage in Libya – or had booked a holiday and found it late to cancel or would see too much money wasted if they’d not come to Malta. At that time, a month back, we had UK friends who noticed, as if for the first time “Oh, you are close to Africa aren’t you?”. The seed was being sewn then that Malta might not be THE place to holiday for a while.
Malta hasn’t seen fighter jets taking off next to Easyjets – yet. Despite the surprise arrival of the Libyan Migs, Malta has avoided the perception that it’s in a sort of war zone version of the No-fly Zone. Some here feel it’s ridiculous that Malta doesn’t get off its fence of neutrality and pin its colours to the coalition. But, that wouldn’t be good for tourism would it? Malta International (civil) Airport as the temporary home of military jets…But Crete and Cyprus, also holiday islands, are hosting coalition fire power though.
The tourist’s view through the binoculars in Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta might prove a bit more interesting these days. Grand Harbour has fewer cruise liners and more by way of frigates and destroyers from various navies, though mainly the British, calling into restock and refuel as they patrol the Mediterranean between us and Libya. But for some, this is to see Grand Harbour almost back to its heyday as a bustling naval port. Nostalgia rules. Ships in harbour are less worrying for tourists although they are no doubt loaded with missiles.
A leading local hotelier told MaltaInsideOut recently that the coverage of Malta during the Libya crisis “showed us in good light and put us on the map”. We are doing our ‘nurse of the Mediterranean’ bit. And any PR is good PR for some. He may well be proved right if the sentiments in the film (above) hold sway.
What is more likely to influence tourism opinion is the issue of irregular migrants. This may be more of a clincher for the tourism sector’s success this coming year. With Malta having just received (28 March) its first boat this year of immigrants, we’re back in the news in our core tourism markets. Italy for one.
Italian TV presenter Massimo Giletti of ‘Domenica in’, a peak Sunday afternoon magazine programme on Rai 1 in Italy, was broadcast on 27th March as saying the Maltese armed forces allegedly shoot at boat people rather than rescue them or let them land on Malta. His statement escalated into a diplomatic incident with respective Maltese and Italian ambassadors in the verbal fray. The BBC is also covering middle-Med migration issues here.
So, Malta, open for tourism business? Yes, and the same as it ever was. Mostly, tourists don’t go native. They do not and need not pick up on the changes that Malta is going through – a reassessment of its ‘neutrality’ role for one, or the need for EU-wide burden sharing of immigrants. A tourist is passing through, not aware of the subtle making of history that’s going on in Malta. So, Malta is as it ever was. Just not for those who live here even if we too are not sure of the change.