Tourism is an economic activity capable of generating growth and employment whilst contributing to economic development and social integration. The EU tourism industry generates more than 4% of the EU’s GDP, varying from 2% (in some EU states) to 12% in Malta. When related sectors are taken into account, the estimated contribution of tourism to GDP creation is much higher. In recent years, employment growth within this sector has been significantly higher than others in the economy. The tourism and hospitality industries are particularly important when it comes to offering career opportunities to young people, who represent twice as much of the labour force than in other areas of the economy.
Malta drew up a strategy for sustainable development in the aftermath of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, which was held in 1992. The governments of almost all nations committed themselves to adopt a sustainable strategy so as to build upon and harmonise the various sectors’ economic, social and environmental policies. The basic goal of such a strategy was to ensure socially responsible economic development whilst protecting the resource base and the environment for the benefit of future generations. In September 2000, some 150 Heads of States, including the Maltese counterpart signed the Millennium Declaration. They reaffirmed their support to the principles of sustainable development and Agenda 21. They also agreed on the Millennium Development Goals, including the need to integrate the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programmes and reverse the loss of environmental resources.
The Tourism Policies (Malta Tourism Policies, 2008-2011; 2012-2016) and the National Environment Policy Draft (NEPD) for Consultation issued through the Office of the Prime Minister (2011) attempt to address the issues of sustainable development in the Maltese context. The NEPD covers potential areas of contention such as the construction of the buildings of tourism establishments, environmental protection, environmental stewardship and public participation in the environmental issues. This policy ensures that the construction of tourism development should be sustainable and should not harm sensitive ecological habitats. Similarly, it has been suggested that there should be no degradation of historical-cultural resources. NEPD sought to encourage the general public to actively participate in environmental management and to take action on environmental issues. There was a growing recognition that the concept of environmental stewardship had to be universal, and not just limited to the public sector or non-governmental organisations. The empowerment of citizens to take responsibility for the environment was the focus of the Aarhus Convention (1998), which Malta has also signed and ratified. Malta has also transposed the two EU directives related to the Aarhus Convention on access to information and public participation into its national legislation. Interestingly, Malta is fully compliant with the EU Directives relating to public participation, although there is the potential to refine its current practices. Malta’s environmental policy’s strategy rests on the following 5 pillars of sustainability:
· “Providing easily-accessible information about the state of the environment;
· Educating citizens, the private sector, local government and policy and decision-makers, about the environment;
· Providing information to consumers about the environmental impacts of products, services and activities through eco-labelling;
· Working with stakeholders, encouraging and supporting the role of the voluntary sector, particularly environmental non-governmental organisations, in environmental protection;
· Encouraging local government to take a stronger role in environmental protection” (Malta’s National Environment Policy Draft, 2011).
Moreover, the tourism policies (2008-2011; 2012-2016) encourage the provision of training which is highly required for young people and those who are willing to work in the tourism sectors. The tourism studies lead to the delivery of a quality service and hence to the industry’s competitiveness. The investment in human resources at all levels is deemed essential towards improving the tourism product. The ‘new’ tourism policy (covering the period 2012-2016) addresses the shortcomings of appropriate skills and knowledge which are highly demanded and valued by the hospitality sector. The tourism stakeholders want to ensure that training is available for all those who want to work in the industry. The training structures must continuously improve the quality assurance and standards of training. They must ensure that such training is in line with the requirements of the industry; in terms of availability and accessibility of courses. Training the future’s human resources is the key to delivering a positive experience to Malta’s prospective visitors. The policy suggests that training is already being delivered by specialised personnel (at the Institute of Tourism Studies and through MTA’s Tourism Training and HR Development Department) capable of meeting the needs of the industry. In addition, the policy does not exclude the possibility of private training enterprises which may deliver recognised qualifications from accredited overseas institutions. Lifelong learning opportunities are being provided for those interested to start or to continue working in the tourism sector. Following Malta’s EU membership in 2004, the ministry for tourism has made good use of the European Social Funds (ESF), which together with national funds, has successfully co-funded such training initiatives.
The Maltese tourism policy (2012-2016) strives to address the contentious issues about middle-aged unemployment and female workforce participation in the labour market. According to this policy, it is crucial to minimise staff turnover. It encourages staff retention, particularly female employees. This can only be achieved if and when the necessary support structures and work patterns are available and accepted. The national action plan (Ministry for Tourism and Culture, 2012) presents the necessary guidelines to encourage such improved work practices, which are to be taken up by the private sector. The Maltese government’s objective in the tourism sector is to have the right environment which leads to the creation of more and better jobs, as specified in the National Action Plan for Employment (see Ministry for Tourism and Culture, 2012).