A long-term holistic strategy “Cruise Malta”

Our vision is bold – a vision that requires sustained action on multiple fronts to see Malta, Gozo (including Comino and Northern Malta) and the Three Cities become major beneficiaries. This is a long-term strategy, as cruise lines generally plan a minimum of two to three years in advance.

1. Create incentives for rotations and homeporting in Valletta

This is a golden opportunity for Malta to make its mark with cruise itinerary planners. Homeporting has significant collateral economic benefits as it feeds the entire tourism ecosystem (airlines, airport, port, hotels, restaurants, transport, shops, etc.).

Financial incentives, such as discounts on port and air passenger taxes, could be an attractive proposition for some cruise lines. However, to increase the proportion of luxury lines, it should not be linked to volume or frequency. Luxury lines seek to avoid repeating the same route and appreciate fast lanes, quick hotel or boat transfers, stylish check-in facilities and possibly also an exclusive berth away from the mega ships.

There must be a sustained effort to attract the home port, as this entails overnight stays for pre- and post-cruise stays, crew accommodation, medical services, provisions, shopping, entertainment and restaurants, while ensuring increased air capacity that can be used for regular tourism as well.

I see this as a unique opportunity for the World Heritage Site of Valletta and its boutique hotels to become part of the appeal of using Malta as a home base. Marquee ports in the Mediterranean are Barcelona, ​​Civitavecchia, Palma de Mallorca, Venice, Piraeus and others that are close to world famous cities and the mainland. Malta needs to exceed its weight and claim to be rich in culture and history by showcasing works by Caravaggio, Renzo Piano and its UNESCO sites as well as security and hospitality and the often overlooked facts that we are English speaking and have excellent medical facilities.

Furthermore, I would also like to point out that Malta’s stakeholders (airport, port, hotels, transport companies, agents, ground operators) work seamlessly as one team and efficiently. We need excellent connectivity to the source destinations that Malta needs (eg Germany, Italy, France, Norway, UK and especially the USA via alliances aerial).

Last year we broke the mold and saw direct flights from New York for Viking cruise lines. This has clearly demonstrated that air cruise operations from the United States can be successful for the upscale, expedition and luxury market with ships typically under a thousand guest capacity. I truly believe that attracting the likes of this sector will bring to Malta the much sought after, high spender tourist that is so lucrative for the local ecosystem.

2. Increase visibility of Gozo as an additional cruise destination

My company started the ‘Cruise Gozo’ concept in 2006 and it has grown steadily ever since. More than a hundred calls were handled between 2006 and 2022, ranging from ships with a capacity of 100 passengers to 2,000 passengers. With careful micromanagement of the destination, it can be done. However, the potential is enormous!

Cruise tourism injects money into several Gozitan businesses – coaches, guides, shops, bars, taxis, water taxis, Maltese heritage sites and many artisans. What has encouraged cruise lines to add Gozo to Valletta is the short sailing distance (thus lower fuel consumption and emissions) as well as low port charges.

On top of that, again since the stopover is at anchor, Gozo is perceived as an exotic destination, so more guests go ashore (by tender) and with more excursions to earth. This increases revenue on board the ship (shore excursions are an important source of revenue on board and therefore have a great influence on the choice of ports at the stage of itinerary planning). In addition, more and more passengers are disembarking independently, which has an additional direct impact on the local economy. Guests often comment that they are surprised by Gozo’s unique charm and hospitality, complemented by a variety of things to see, including an impressive UNESCO site, Ġgantija.

The Maltese Islands should offer a more holistic approach as a cruise destination now and in the future

3. Senglea Wharf

I think the Maltese Islands should offer a more holistic approach as a cruise destination now and in the future.

Luxury cruise ships love the idea of ​​having an exclusive berth for several reasons, but perhaps the most important is to steer clear of mega liners which can lead to overcrowding in the port destination. . So it would be more beneficial to use Senglea Wharf (Boiler), not as an overflow berth but primarily as a boutique cruise pier (note that I didn’t use the word ‘terminal’).

Port agents and ground operators will need to ensure cruise planners are aware of this possibility and recalibrate tours and port descriptions to reflect this and incorporate the Three Cities and Southern Malta as beneficiaries of this new tourism in their region.

We (MBL) have studied this issue in depth and can make some relevant suggestions. An overhaul and investment in basic facilities (marks, rest areas, toilets) would go a long way in diverting the growth of quality cruise tourism to this hidden gem called Senglea, as our artist’s impression shows, and avoid congestion in the most frequently visited areas when cruise ships are on the Valletta side.

A holistic action plan for this is needed. If mooring fees and service fees are competitive, this could be a big lure to attract more small/medium vessels to the Three Cities and push tourism to these less explored but very fascinating areas which still offer a glimpse of Malta of yesteryear.

4. The “green card”

Most next-gen luxury/adventure cruise lines are adopting greener practices and many are ready for ship-to-shore.

Work on the ship-to-shore links is progressing well. Once in operation, the project will give impetus to the concept of “greener” cruise tourism which, in turn, will boost Malta’s position in the luxury segment. If ships turn around, passengers will stay with us longer (pre/post cruise) in luxury hotels and enjoy our restaurants, tours and shopping.

If, on top of that, the whole supporting ecosystem pivots to a more sustainable mode, it would create a stronger case for Malta as a sustainable destination. Being associated with sustainable cruise lines further bolsters Malta’s green credentials. This aligns with the goals of MTA’s 2021-2030 Cruise Tourism Strategy, which aims to continue to evolve the cruise industry in line with developing global trends and to convert cruise passengers into potential land-based tourists.

The desired result

We are convinced that with the right vision and management, the cruise industry can have a positive impact on the revitalization of our tourism sector. Cruise planners need to be convinced of the new cruise industry mantra: “Safety, Feeling Safe and Visible Safety”.

By actively promoting Gozo as an additional cruise destination to Valletta, adding Senglea as a competitive (and refurbished) cruise pier for small/medium (max 1,000 guests), Malta will have a mix healthier home ports of smaller, medium and large cruise ships, making rotations and calls which would spread the economic benefits to many stakeholders in a more sustainable manner across both islands while enhancing Malta’s image as a premium destination which will also have another collateral benefit of enticing customers to return for leisure vacations and/or luxury travel and MICE events.

Generally, the smaller the ship, the more upscale the clientele, and these generally prefer to explore the destination in a meaningful way, spending more time and money. Thus, it would be to everyone’s benefit if more small and medium sized luxury/expedition vessels frequented the Maltese Islands more.

Ivan Mifsud is a member of the Malta Maritime Forum (MMF) Board of Directors and Managing Director of Mifsud Brothers Ltd DBA Malta Cruise Services. The opinions expressed in this article are those of Mifsud in its final capacity and do not necessarily reflect the views of MMF.

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