The President of Malta

Speech by President George Vella during the Mediterranean Tourism Awards, Grand Harbour Terrace, Mediterranean Conference Centre, 13th June 2022

Honourable Minister for Tourism,

President of the Malta Tourism Foundation, Mr Tony Zahra

Excellencies,

Distinguished Guests,

The Mediterranean is one of the regions in the world that separates two adjacent groups of countries with dissimilar demographic characteristics and contrasting levels of development. The Mediterranean region, through its diversity, is representative of the rest of the planet and is thus a life-size laboratory for the World Vision exercise.

As global challenges such as the pandemic, war, inflation, climate change, food security, are impacting more than ever before the lives of our people, Mediterranean countries are today undergoing intensive demographic, social, cultural, political, economic and environmental changes giving rise to various questions: Where will all these changes lead to? What future lies ahead for the Mediterranean countries? How will they face up to the ever-increasing difficulties being encountered? The good news is that the Mediterranean has a great history to share with the rest of the world, a story which has placed the Mediterranean region on top of the preference list of yesterday’s as well as today’s and tomorrow’s travellers.

Accordingly, as the Patron of the Mediterranean Tourism Forum I share the vision of the MTF Founders and Senators that our Great Story is the Mediterranean solution for a better future: Tourism is our edge for a better tomorrow for all our people. Tourism is indeed a powerful motor and when managed well can oil economies, sustain environmental conservation, and leverage the development of societies. Tourism has the potential to overcome instability and can do away with warlords and power mongers. Because income from tourism quickly trickles down to the pockets and creates opportunities of hope for a better future.

The foundations for tourism are already strong across the Mediterranean region.  Thus, it presents itself as a feasible and pertinent long-term solution.  When managed correctly, tourism is not only sustainable but also easily adaptable and flexible to specific economic and social realities.  However, the way to achieve common quality tourism goals all across the Mare Nostrum region has still a long way to go.  This certainly is not impossible. For thousands of years, there have been strong bonds between the peoples of the Mediterranean, due to the geography and the solidarity and joint action is imperative to improve the environment in which we live through tourism. A quick look to European history reveals that the principle being proposed here is very similar to the origins of the precursor of the European Union, the European Coal and Steel Community – an economic union created in 1952 that provided for the pooling of coal, iron, and steel production in countries like Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany. Indeed coal, iron and steel were key resources at the time in Europe and so presented themselves as the right basis for common interest that would lead to the achievement of a common goal: the attainment of economic growth and social development through stability and peace in the region.

In our case, in our region and in our times, tourism is definitely that economic and social ‘raw material’ and ‘resource’ that is capable not only to overcome differences amongst key players across the Mediterranean region but significantly to emphasise the potential of strength through diversity. The key word here is synergy.  In all of this we believe Malta has a key role to play.

Why us? Why Malta? Because: Malta’s economy depends heavily on tourism.  It is a model of how economic and social growth can be fuelled despite limited resources; Malta is too small to be considered as a political or economic threat to any of its neighbouring Mediterranean countries, hence the right driver for such an initiative; Malta enjoys excellent relations with all Mediterranean countries and their surrounding regions and is significantly a member of the European Union, therefore it has an important say in this critical economic bloc which plays such a vital role for the Mediterranean; Above all, Malta, despite its size, has the right drive to act as a catalyst for the realisation of this vision.

This proposal is not pie in the sky.

Your presence here this evening is proof of that. We have amongst us here multidisciplinary experts from 28 Mediterranean countries and beyond – coming from tourism, hospitality, and travel operators, but also engineers, developers, musicians and artists, politicians, climate activities, journalists, technology disrupters, psychologists, architects, philosophers, marketers, teachers, financial advisors, lawyers, religious leaders, statisticians, scientists, and colleagues from the medical field amongst others.

Indeed, I thank you all for convening in Malta together to act as one … as one brain… as tomorrow’s Forum is aptly themed: the Mediterranean Brain… to brainstorm and create what is necessary, to change the impact of tourism, as a means to do good for our people, our planet and for the prosperity of our economies. 

Your presence here to participate in tomorrow’s 7th edition of the Mediterranean Tourism Forum is a clear commitment to redefine what it means to travel, to one which aims to help everyone to explore our world in a way that protects both people and places and secures a positive future for destinations and local communities for generations to come. 

But as much as it is good and important to look into the future it is also good to look through the rear-view mirror and recognize all those who contributed to what we have today and all those who are today spearheading efforts, knowledge and ideas to rekindle the Mediterranean identity and create a new approach to tourism by spearheading it along a sustainable and resilient development path. This requires bold and transformative steps underpinned by new tools, new data, new ways of working and new resources significantly built on the experience of the past.  So, it is my pleasure this evening to confer the Mediterranean Tourism Awards to personalities coming from different walks of life and countries who have collectively contributed to the sustainable growth of the tourism sector across the Mediterranean.

I would like to end by thanking the real protagonists of our great Mediterranean region: the private sector, its workers, the community as a whole, the public administrations present here, and also, of course, the Mediterranean Tourism Forum family. I would like to thank all of you for being so resilient after two very difficult years…. for the resistance that you have all shown together leading us to this day as we are opening to a new special summer season… a new era, which I’m confident will be marked by economic growth, by job creation and by the competitiveness of a sector embracing the UN sustainable goals of people, the planet and prosperity, that is so fundamental for our Mediterranean region.

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