At the beginning of last week, your humble editor had the honour and pleasure to participate in the Mediterranean Tourism Forum 2022 in Malta. With almost a thousand participants, it was one of the biggest tourism conferences taking place fully physical. What a joy to meet in person, without masks and with serendipity back, so that you end up for instance sitting over dinner next to a partner of the law firm which represents HRH QE II.
A keynote by Prof. Dimitrios Buchalis, who is currently at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, was the only part which followed the form we all have learned in the last 30 months to hate as a video intervention without any chance for interaction.
Malta is a special place for me. In the 1980s I used to have an apartment in Gzira, between Valletta and St. Julians. Thanks to cheap nonstop flight air tickets offered by Interflug from Schönefeld Airport (now Berlin Brandenburg Airport Willy Brandt) to Luqa Airport in Malta, it was possible to work seven days a week in Berlin and spend the collected weekends every six weeks or by staying for a week in Malta. At that time, Malta was a charming backwater, combining British culture (pubs, pound currency, left-hand drive, queuing up, English language, garden peas with every dish) with sunshine, lots of Neolithic and medieval culture and fresh fish.
Alas, the car has taken over also in Malta. Gone are the times when a popular Maltese song would claim that “some drive right, some drive left, the Maltese drive in the shade”. Nowadays four-lane elevated highways dominate the North shore and traditional stone houses with wooden balconies are demolished to make space for high-rise buildings. The domes and spires of the many churches used to be the highest points of the landscape, the latest building called Mercury Tower will soon be finished and will have 32 stores.
Caravaggio lived and painted for some time on Malta, fleeing from persecution in Italy and protected by his homosexual lovers in high places among the Knights. This was not a topic in the 1980s for the very catholic society in Malta. I remember a screening of the Caravaggio movie by Derek Jarman by the University of Malta Film Club in 1987, where some rather graphic scenes made the students pale and some girls even swoon. Now a Caravaggio musical will be shown in September in the MCC Mediterranean Conference Center as its first own in-house production.
The roof of the MCC, originally built as the Sacra Infermeria hospital in the 16th century, was also the venue for a wonderful dinner overlooking the harbour with the Prime Minister presiding and handing over the Mediterranean Tourism Awards. Earlier that day ten BRAIN (Business Research and Industry Network) groups tackled different supply-side aspects of the future of tourism. Your humble editor had the honour to be the reporter of his group about service quality, which had also discussed the Hedonic Sustainability approach and the Meaningful Tourism paradigm as a way to increase quality in a holistic and positive way.
The next day had a plenum in the morning and Masterclass groups in the afternoon. The biggest quality of the MTF is the level and diversity of the participants. Unlike many other conferences, when tourism guys speak to other tourism guys about tourism, the MTF included architects, lawyers, artists, investors, medical doctors, politicians, influencers, the unavoidable metaverses and many others. The participants came not only from the riparian entities of the Mediterranean Sea, but included also delegations from Ghana, China, Finland and other countries.
The fact that the Mediterranean does not only have an European northern shore, but also an African southern shore, was also reflected in the selection of bands playing under a full moon at the sky pool party on top of the hosting Intercontinental Hotel which concluded the conference: A band of Tuaregs was flown in from Southern Algeria and a band from Palestine performed as well, if only with the four out of six members who managed to cross successfully all the borders and bureaucratic obstacles you are facing as a Palestinian passport holder.
China has of course been a very important source market for the Mediterranean region up to 2019. Some destinations in the region have no problems substituting Chinese and Russian arrivals with other source markets, some others like Egypt and Turkey will suffer more in 2022.
The question “When will the Chinese borders open again?” was asked many times. The honest answer “Nobody knows and everybody who tells you s/he knows, is a fool” was sweetened by your humble editor with the observation that for economic reasons but also because of the social pressure of the Chinese passport holding class it is hard to imagine that it will be later than the end of this or early next year.
As always, all best wishes from Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Georg Arlt and the whole COTRI WEEKLY team!