Valletta is a “magnificent” city, “built by people with a vision”, and that is why it is able to draw tourists as a destination in its own right, thinks President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA), Tony Zahra.
Speaking on this week’s edition of WhosWho.mt’s The Boardroom, hosted by Business Writer and Entrepreneur Jo Caruana, Mr Zahra was asked for his viewpoint on the unique appeal of Valletta, and its outlook as a centre of tourism excellence.
Firstly, Mr Zahra identifies, it is “fortunate” that supply is limited in the city, to make sure we avoid creating “another Buggiba”, which, he said “we don’t want”.
If supply exceeds demand, he speculates, the overall quality and appeal of the city to tourists would decline.
It’s a city that’s particular in a lot of ways, he states, “built by gentlemen, for gentlemen”, and it is of quintessence that this product is maintained.
Valletta attracts tourists to Malta, through its own character, he says. People are drawn to it in atypical tourist seasons, such as in late winter when (at least before the COVID pandemic) people visited the city by the thousands for city centre breaks.
These are generally only three or four days, explains Mr Zahra, and Valletta’s size and variety of outlets lend themselves to this length of stay. With its three Michelin-Starred restaurants, as well as countless other highly-rated ones, a tourist could conceivably stay in Valletta for an entire day, eating and drinking at a different outlet a day.
It’s not just the architecture and general material constitution of the city though, he has found: “Valletta is not just a museum, it’s a living city”, and foreigners love to come and meet local residents.
However, despite his affection for the city, Mr Zahra does concede that it is not perfect, and he specifically identifies shortcomings in the retail sector as needing improvement.
“We need to up our game where retail is concerned”, he said, continuing that the retail offerings in the city at the moment are failing to provide for high-quality tourists with disposable income, that the city can otherwise attract.
“There is very little on Republic Street that a discerning customer with money in their pocket can buy. We really need to up our retail and get in the big names”.
With the right shops, tourists might spend thousands of euros buying gifts for family, “but they need to have someone to spend the money. Let’s make it unique, lets make it attractive”.