With barely two months at the helm of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) under his belt, Carlo Micallef is confident in his knowledge of where the industry stands today and where he wants it to go. His confidence stems from his broad experience in the sector, as his appointment as CEO back in May came as a natural progression in his 25-year-long career at the MTA.

“I am thankful to have taken the lead of this wonderful organisation after a long career working practically at all levels of the Authority, experiencing first hand what the challenges and realities are,” Mr Micallef shares on his new role.

“Over these years, I have witnessed the tourism sector shift and change completely – we have come a long way,” he says.

“I joined the MTA as an Executive on the Russian market. The huge country had become an attractive proposition for Malta, but the Authority was finding difficulty to find someone to take on the challenge of establishing a brand new market in an unfamiliar culture that uses an unfamiliar language,” he recalls.

“Being the new guy, I ended up taking on the challenge myself, and I am ever so grateful as it was an excellent opportunity for me. In fact, the project was a success. Through Russia’s own media outlets, we managed to attract a growing cohort of tourists who started visiting the island. For the next step, we identified a series of niche markets to service Russia, such as the then budding English Language teaching industry and the scuba diving sector,” he explains.

“From then on, I never looked back,” Mr Micallef claims, as he recalls contributing towards reducing the dangerous dependence on the UK core markets, as well as upgrading Malta’s offering and marketing to avoid relying on attracting tourists on the basis of low prices.

Hitting the ground running, Mr Micallef is clear about his ambition to renew the perception of the tourism sector as an attractive career option for students and workers.

“Tourism delivers an unrivalled work experience,” he says. “Meeting people from all over the globe is an enriching experience. Acting as an ambassador for the country’s heritage, is something else entirely,” Mr Micallef notes.

“This is why we want to make the choice of a career path in the sector attractive to our students once again.  In collaboration with the Institute of Tourism Studies, which provides us with the human resources necessary to run the industry, we want to understand what is discouraging young people from choosing tourism and address these challenges. It has worked in the past; in fact one can safely say that the industry today is run almost completely by ITS graduates. So, I am confident that we will succeed once again,” Mr Micallef reassures.

Mr Micallef is equally unequivocal about his mission to take the industry to a new level of excellence.

“The time for half-baked solutions is over,” Mr Micallef states. “If Malta wants to keep attracting tourists of a certain level, who request a certain level of service, we cannot afford to tolerate certain practices any longer. We need to ascertain that tourists are not being short-changed by what they are promised, and that excellent quality service and experience are maintained from the second their plane touches the tarmac in Gudja, to the moment they wave our islands goodbye,” Mr Micallef says.

In his view, all efforts to improve the level of service of the industry will have a handsome multiplier effect.

“We also need to keep the Maltese tourist in mind, who is as important as our international visitor. If Maltese people visit a restaurant or go for a weekend break, they are equally contributing to the strengthening of the industry, and we cannot take their patronage for granted,” Mr Micallef cautions.

Asked for his view on Malta becoming increasingly expensive when compared to competing destinations, Mr Micallef reveals that feedback by visiting tourists was still positive, yet the MTA is already acting on this front.

“We are pleased to note that although circumstances have been expounded by a series of adverse international factors, Malta is still managing to maintain its attractiveness; in fact we are registering extremely encouraging results which compare very well to our pre-COVID numbers.

“Furthermore, focusing more on quality, we want to help our operators to continue improving on the experience they offer. In this vein, we are helping them take on refurbishment projects to keep their facilities fresh and up to date with industry standards, as well as helping them invest in training their staff further.”

MTA cannot achieve this ambitious goal on its own though, Mr Micallef warns. Improving the country’s product offering needs to be a concerted effort by the entire country.

Taking a moment to reflect on the international factors the MTA needs to remain vigilant about, Mr Micallef makes reference to the war in Ukraine, which, apart from blocking entire markets from travel, has also brought about a new level of competition between destinations. This is more so evident with countries that rely on the Russian and Ukrainian markets such as Cyprus, that had to direct their attentions to markets which are important for Malta.

“One small shift on the global scenario can bring about so many changes. It is a dynamic industry that requires constant attention,” Mr Micallef explains.

Looking ahead towards the next five years, Mr Micallef underlines the importance of a quality leap.

“As we have already discussed, over the past decades, we have made several quality leaps, but we are also aware that the goalposts are constantly shifting. We need to continue to aim for higher-quality visitors who visit for a superior experience.

“Therefore, we must provide them with excellent events, activities and attractions during the slower shoulder months to maintain the industry all year round. I am confident that we can elevate Malta’s brand to become synonymous with a guarantee of quality, for the benefit of the industry itself and the entire country,” Mr Micallef concludes.

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Written By

Edward Bonello

Edward Bonello is a content writer, PR consultant and generally chill fellow. When he’s not happily tapping away at his laptop, he enjoys collecting useless trivia, watching B-movies, and cooking the most decent carbonara this side of Trastevere.