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The Editor’s Letter: Embracing Differences

The Mediterranean region is regarded as the source of most contemporary civilisations. Historically this basin has been the central superhighway of transport, trade and cultural exchange between diverse peoples, encompassing three continents: Western Asia, North Africa, and Southern Europe. For many years, this region was regarded as pivotal as an access point between these continents, and had strategic importance: control of this area held the keys to political and economic power in the region, extending to the rest of the surrounding continents.

Today, the Mediterranean region is the principal tourist destination in the world: around one-third of all international tourists arrive in the Mediterranean, making it the world’s most visited region. Tourism therefore plays a vital role in the region’s economies, affecting all aspects of these countries’ development. In today’s world, the markets and economies of different countries are ever more interrelated. It is no longer sufficient for a country to work on its own to create a favourable situation for its economy. This is especially the case for countries within the European Union as decisions taken at a European level will have long-reaching influences on the rules and regulations binding member countries and even those in the surrounding regions. Additionally, as explained in Professor David Abulafia’s contribution, 80% of tourists visiting Mediterranean come from Europe, mostly from northern and western countries, thus reiterating the importance of combining efforts and creating a unified front.There are a multitude of factors that influence the economy of one particular country. The dynamics of the tourism industry create an interrelationship between different countries that is unprecedented in other lines of business. The political situation in a particular country will affect the economy and hence the affluence of its people which will affect the disposable income available for travel. This was evident recently in the economic recession experienced in most European countries: this led to many countries limiting their international travel due to constraints on their disposable income.

From another angle, political instability in a country may create a barrier to incoming tourism as visitors will be prone to be averse to risk and would prefer to visit countries with a higher level of stability. For example, recent and ongoing political turmoil in countries such as Libya and Egypt meant that travel to these countries both for leisure and for business was severely cut down. This may also inadvertently lead to opportunities for other markets that emerge as replacement markets or as a support for such troubled situations; for example, with the issues in Libya, Malta emerged as an alternate transit destination to provide access to Libya.

Apart from the political and economic influences on tourism, there are also factors such as technology that have been significantly influencing the evolution of the tourism industry in today’s world. As explained more clearly in the article by Daniel Surya and Jeffrey Budiman and in that by Nick Vilardell, tourism is another area wherein the dynamics are being completely transformed through the advance of technology.

Another important factor shaping the global tourism market is the sociocultural situation of different countries. As we see the advancement of certain huge markets such as India, China and Japan, more and more of the population in these countries are achieving middle class affluence, creating an enormous new swathe of travellers interested in world tourism. This creates massive opportunities for expansion of the world tourism market, but countries interested in winning tourism euros must ensure that they are aware of such developments and target these new emerging markets. As explained extensively in the article ‘The Great Indian Traveller’, one such opportunity is the growth of the number of Indians travelling: these are expected to increase exponentially from 15 million today to around 50 million by 2020. Most of these Indian travellers are also likely to undertake a multi-country vacation in Europe and it is therefore essential for a country to create a presence and share of mind to be considered in the travel decision-making process.

Another important factor influencing the ultimate quality of the tourism product is the stock and level of the labour market servicing this industry. This is an issue discussed extensively in the case study presented by Barbaros Kon and also touched upon by various other contributors, including the incumbent MHRA President, Matthew Pace.

Why should the Mediterranean countries co-operate? Aren’t these countries in competition? The major growth in tourism is stemming from the BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) – huge countries holding great potential for future growth. It is therefore essential for the region to create a unified lobbying presence to market itself. Rather than merely marketing key hotspots such as Rome or Paris, the region would be able to showcase a multitude of destinations within the region, highlighting and showcasing different offerings. We need to create a complementary and cohesive product to appeal to these new emerging markets; to combine our differences and thus create a value proposition to BRIC which they would find hard to not be attracted to.

The aim of the Mediterranean Tourism Forum is to unite Mediterranean countries into one consistent, unified region to create awareness for those issues which are specific to this area and keep them high on agenda for discussion. The Forum is under the patronage of Her Excellency the President of Malta who in this instance is not solely a unifying figure for our country, but is moreover representing the unity of the region that is key for the success of this initiative.

As explained by Andrew Agius Muscat, MHRA CEO, it is therefore essential to have a voice in Europe to be able to lobby to influence decisions at a European level. The Forum is not just a ‘conference’ but has more far-reaching and long-term objectives to tackle different aspects of the sector. Malta and the MHRA have taken a leading role as a catalyst in this situation. The MHRA’s vision is to have a culmination of all the aspects tackled in the separate fora by 2016. This will be presented to Malta’s Prime Minister, Dr Joseph Muscat who has accepted to put forward these points for discussion during Malta’s EU presidency tenure.

We would like to thank Her Excellency, the President of Malta and the Minister of Tourism for their contributions, as well as the various other contributors, including Malta Tourism Authority CEO, the Malta Film Commissioner, Air Malta CEO, President of HOTREC, and local industry leaders, as well as our foreign contributors; who have together ensured that this publication has developed into a truly exciting one, setting the stage for a valuable and beneficial discussion during the Mediterranean Tourism Forum.

With the Mediterranean being the birthplace of most cultures and religions, and Malta’s interesting and varied history that provides a melting pot for so many different cultures, our country is the ideal location to create such a Forum that will hopefully be the introduction of a new, ever more successful chapter in the book of the Mediterranean’s economic development, giving the next steps to ‘The Great Story’.