Regenerative tourism | Josianne Cutajar

MEP Josianne Cutajar is a Member of the Transport and Tourism Committee as well as the Tourism Taskforce at the European Parliament

The tourism and hospitality sectors were the most affected during the COVID-19 pandemic. Business communities economically dependent on tourism came to a standstill, while restrictions and lockdowns were put into place. This in turn led to calls from a number of experts and commentators who have pushed forward the economic diversification mantra, stating that if we diversify our economy, we will be more resilient to external shocks.

This reasoning has its merits. Yet, diversification alone will not lead to sustainability. If we look towards the Mediterranean, we will come to the conclusion that tourism is one of the regional economic bedrocks. In Malta, tourism is one of the top five economic contributors, with Gozo being somewhat synonymous with the touristic sector.

It is for this reason, therefore, that apart from diversifying our economy, I also believe that we should be future-proofing our tourism industry. In this regard, future-proofing tourism means putting workers, businesses and communities at the centre of a support system, a support system that is rooted in EU funding and mechanisms, as well as national support mechanisms.

Such systems should support small and medium enterprises and also embed the environmental and digital transition that needs to be done. SMEs need to be endowed with the necessary skills that allow them not just to survive, but also to flourish and thrive.

How do we arrive at this, however? Firstly, in the immediate short-term the COVID certificates need to be implemented within the EU as a whole - by all Member States - as soon as possible and then also scaled up towards third countries.

This certificate will offer peace of mind to travellers, businesses and communities alike, and although this is only something related to the current pandemic, I’m more than sure that such an initiative will give us the necessary breathing space that will come in handy in pushing through.

Short term measures however are not the sole solution. And that is why I am calling for the development of innovation hubs for tourism at a regional level. The idea behind such innovation hubs is both simple, and effective, with the said hubs helping all actors develop appropriate business models, rooted in the local ecosystem. Each tailor-made business model would then be able to be applied and adapted to different scenarios. And in this way, we’ll be seeing that businesses in “volatile sectors” have not just a Plan A, but a Plan A, B, and if possible even a Plan C.

In the coming months, we would also do well to look at new trends; digital and sustainable trends, that are also being driven by a change in consumer behaviour. Whereas in the past we used to speak only about sustainable tourism, nowadays we’re speaking about regenerative tourism, and this is an area that we would do well to penetrate further.

Whereas sustainable tourism is built around reducing the strains on local ecosystems, regenerative tourism focuses on positive improvements on the ecosystem as a result of tourism. It is my belief that Malta and Gozo both have the potential to use regenerative tourism to improve themselves: socially, economically, but also and environmentally.  Malta’s long term Tourism “Recover, Rethink, Revitalise” Strategy is an important step in the right direction, also acknowledging the importance of a specific plan for Gozo.

Yet the public sector cannot do this alone. Industry is a primary driver of the sector and therefore also needs to shift its focus from easy short-term gains to long-term flourishment. With the adequate support and vision, there needs to be quality investment that makes the sector more resilient, benefitting the touristic and local ecosystem as a whole.

The only way we can safe proof and future proof tourism is by working together and coordinating a holistic recovery and regenerative plan. Let us not lose a golden opportunity to build back better, in a more regenerative and resilient way.

Josianne Cutajar is a Labour MEP • This is a paid post