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COVID-19 was a dystopian event, which had the most disruptive effect on global tourism flows since tourism statistics were first recorded in 1950. As a response, many destinations sought to think about tourism for a better world as from ‘dystopia we seek utopia, from despair we seek hope’. Professor Ian Yeoman was asked by the Malta Tourism Authority to create a set of scenarios about the future of tourism in Malta and a pathway into the future with a focus on sustainability and new technologies. The scenarios were used by the destination to think about its future and drive change.

Professor Yeoman presented his scenarios at the National Malta Tourism Conference on the 6th of May 2023.

Image: Professor Ian Yeoman presents his scenarios at the National Malta Tourism Conference

The scenarios were:
Scenario 1: A Regenerative Future – Reposition, Realignment and Refocus (Transformation)

2023 was a turning point for European tourism. A realisation that a fundamental and radical shift was required because of climate change. In particular, the countries of the Mediterranean faced the challenge of transformation as tourists no longer wanted to be passive bystanders to environmental and social decline that are incompatible with eco-ethical values and behaviors. Throughout the 2020’s, transformational change occurred within Europe’s tourism industry. Seasons shifted radically, particularly in the Mediterranean. Malta’s response was radical. Initially, the government capped the number of tourists coming to the island at 2 million in 2026 in order to prepare a transitional pathway towards regenerative tourism in 2030.

Reposition, Realignment and Refocus was the Malta Tourism Authority’s strategy document. A strategy with a vision to make the islands of Malta the ‘Spiritual Capital of Europe’ through regenerative tourism. Well-being, mindfulness, small-scale and community became the focus of tourism. Regenerative tourism meant a climate positive and ethically responsible industry aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals. The Knights of St John became known as the spiritual guardians of Malta, with tourism at the heart of this. It was tourism that had an empowering message of change and transformation. We saw tourism businesses take on the leadership of caring for their communities and advocating for a better future. Regenerative tourism embraced inclusivity going forward, whether it was five-star resorts or the viticulture industry. Spiritually, was everyone’s business. All of this meant Malta’s tourism brand now had social status and was a beacon of eco-positive behavior. In 2040, the tourism economy generated € 3.5 billion, employing 32,000 people and representing 11% of GDP. But the core benefits of a regenerative approach to tourism are now not just economic, but also social well being and Malta’s position in the climate changed world.

Scenario 2: A Sustainable Pathway – Adaption and Innovative Growth (Growth)

Tourism in Malta has adapted to change in the new world of tourism. Strong investment by governments and the EU to mitigate and adapt to a sustainable pathway was enshrined in the Sustainable Tourism Act (2026) in which unsustainable tourism practices where quickly eradicated and penalized, whereas tax incentives and investment created opportunities and new markets. Examples of the legislation included the ability of tourists to offset their indulgence, as every visitor attraction, restaurant meal, or hotel stay had a CO2 measurement in which the price reflected impact. In particular, the more tourism businesses and government invested in green infrastructure, the more attractive and economically viable tourism became.

An extension to the Act in 2034, allowed further offsetting through a discount scheme, in which tourists could undertake ‘activities for the good’ through community volunteer programmes. A series of investments in low or no emissions schemes meant by 2040, petrol and diesel engines were virtually non-existent on the islands. Europe’s short-haul aircraft are now ‘electric’, and hydrogen ships are commonplace for ferries and cruise ships. All of these changes, along with a shift in seasons, meant a sustainable future for tourism.

In 2040, tourism is a €5 bn industry, directly employing 52,00 people and representing 20% of GDP. According to the European Index of Sustainable Travel, Malta ranks 10th in its commitment to sustainability. Tourism maintains its position as the country’s first and everlasting industry.

Scenario 3: Europe’s Second Class – Second Choice Destination (Stagnation)

Tourism in Malta is based upon the past, a world of icons and complacency. Holding onto the glory of the past when in a changing world of new values, climate change and geopolitical environments. Malta was bogged down with political malaise and a lack of transformation. Tourism in 2040 still exists, but it is fading according to the Lonely Planet Guide:

Malta reminds me of Spain in 1970’s, cheap, tacky and going down hill. There is no longer anything authentic about it.

The key points of this scenario include:

• The tourism product in 2040 is deemed to be ‘second choice – second class’.
• Uncompetitive and un-innovative.
• 1-3% fall in international arrivals per annum over the last twenty years.

In 2040, tourism contributes €1.5 bn to the economy, directly employing 25,000 people and is 6% of GDP. Tourism still makes an important contribution to Malta’s economy, but it is one that is in slow decline. It is the ‘old dog’ of the economy, as its value and contribution has diminished in real terms. Tourism is a second division destination, which is struggling to be competitive primarily because of climate change, and the European economy. Southern Europe and the Mediterranean simply became too hot for many markets.

Malta’s product portfolio has faded. Resorts still have a presence, but the decision by Hilton and Corintha to de-invest in the islands was an indicator of falling RevPar and other countries offered better opportunities. It wasn’t just climate change that led to Malta’s sclerosis of decline, as the country’s youth decided their future was not Malta but Sweden, Germany, France and the USA. An educated population does not want to work in the service industry and other entrepreneurial opportunities beckoned elsewhere. Tourism had lost its panache.

Core markets are still Italy, Britain and Germany. Visitors are ‘grey and mature’, many are return visitors who keep coming back every year. Others have second homes on the islands and often come in the winter months. Healthcare and assisted living residences now offer more bed nights than hotels. Conventions, once a growing sector in tourism, are now on the fringes due to the lack of investment and infrastructure on the islands. Government investment has been hampered by government debt and an increasingly ageing population which increasingly dominates government expenditure on healthcare and pensions.

A report by the World Health Organisation about the Cholera outbreak in 2032, signified the lack of investment in water infrastructure, corruption, and political malaise. Governments did try and address the decline through a compulsory ‘quality-to-practice’ scheme and environmental legislation. But these measures were perceived as half measures. In any case, they could not reverse the impacts of climate change.

Scenario 4: No Tourism (Collapse)

Tourism was once the heart of the Malta’s economy, but how things changed so rapidly. As Professor Michael Farriugia noted:

Tourism in the late 2020’s collapsed for a number of reasons. Firstly, European tourists moved north to more temperate climates in the Netherlands, Scotland and the Nordic countries, as the heat of the Mediterranean became unbearable and because of continuous wild fires. Secondly, securing travel insurance to many Mediterranean countries became impossible. Thirdly, the shortage and cost of water. As without water, there is no life. Fourthly, the political volatility and continued disruption to tourism flows because of war in the Middle East, meant Malta was over run with immigrants flowing through North Africa as they tried to reach Europe.

In 2040, tourism does still exist in enclaves but is not what it used to be. Economically it could be described as minuscule and thus statistics are simply not available.

Concluding Thoughts

The role of scenarios is to provoke thinking in order to bring about change. Thus, the four scenarios in this paper to a certain extent represent the realities of the immediate threat to tourism. The four scenarios represent a living or thinking document in order to respond to the future in the following ways;

• Scenario 1, A Regenerative Future (Transformation) represents a new model for tourism, in which degrowth shapes Malta as the spiritual capital of Europe.
• Scenario 2, A Sustainable Pathway (Growth) represents the challenge of how can tourism in Malta grow the right way through change, adaption and mitigation.
• Scenario 3, Europe’s Second Class – Second Choice Destination (Stagnation) presents inaction and political malaise in which change is ineffective at dealing with the challenges of the future. Consequently, tourism sees a sclerosis of decline.
• Scenario 4, No Tourism (Collapse) represents the sudden impact of change due to the accelerated trend of rising temperatures and other external factors which converge leading to collapse.