Looking into Malta’s award-winning, reputable tourism and ICT industries.
Tourism, the nation’s foremost source of income and the backbone of its economy
The Maltese Islands, consisting of the main island of Malta (area 95sq. mi / 246 sq. km), the adjoining islands of Gozo (26 sq. miles / 67 sq. km) and Comino (1 sq. mile / 2.6 sq. km) and the uninhabited rocky islets of Cominotto, Filfla and Selmunett, lie in the Central Mediterranean at the East end of the Sicilian Channel, 60 miles / 93 km from the southern tip of Sicily and 180 miles / 288 km from the Tunisian coast to the West. The islands extend from NW to SE for a distance of some 27 miles / 44 km, rising to a maximum height of 830 ft / 253 m. The Maltese Islands are the last remains of a land bridge which during the Late Tertiary era and the Glacial periods of the Pleistocene linked Sicily with North Africa and divided the Mediterranean into two.
On the main island, Malta, the land rises in stages from NE to SW. The east is a region of gently rolling hills, never rising above 330 ft / 100 m, with a number of excellent natural harbors wheras the west gives way to a plateau of Tertiary limestones, often broken up by karstic action and reaching its highest points along the west coast which is edged by sheer cliffs that offer little shelter for shipping. Fertile land is found mostly in the larger basins in the eastern half of the island, and it is in these areas that one finds the main concentration of population and where economic activities have developed.
The neighboring island of Gozo is separated from Malta by a channel some 3 miles / 5 km wide, divided in two (the North Comino Channel and the South Comino Channel) by the little island of Comino. Like Malta, Gozo rises gradually toward the SW, though here the limestone hills are lower and the cliffs on the SW coast are correspondingly less formidable. The NE coast, with few indentations, has no natural harbors like those of the main island.
The Maltese Archipelago has a characteristically Mediterranean climate. During the summer months it lies fully within the subtropical belt of high pressure, but in winter this withdraws southward, so that during this period the whole of the Mediterranean may be reached by sub-polar troughs of low pressure. Accordingly summers are hot and dry, while winters are mild but rainy. In July the average temperature is 81°F / 27°C; in January it is still as high as 54°F / 12°C. Frost is unknown on the islands. Most of the annual rainfall of, barely 23.6 in. / 600mm, occurs in November and December; the month of lowest rainfall is July. From April to September the Maltese climate can be classed as arid.
Possessing few indigenous raw materials and no natural resources as well as a very small domestic market, Malta's economic development since the beginning of the 1990s has been based on tourism, accounting for roughly 30% of GDP, and exports of manufactured goods, mainly semiconductors, which account for some 78% of total exports.
Tourist arrivals and foreign exchange earnings derived from tourism have steadily increased since the late 1970s. The introduction of low-cost flights in 2007 was the main contributor to the 10.6% increase in tourist arrivals over 2006. During 2009 the tourism industry faced a difficult external environment, as Malta’s major source markets were severely affected by the global recession. This was reflected in a substantial 8.4% fall in tourist arrivals to around 1.2 million. For 2010, the tourism industry indicates that it has picked up. As of September 2010, inbound tourists registered an increase of 13% when compared to the same period last year and outbound passengers went up by 7% when compared to the same period last year. The cruise liner sector, which experienced 26.6% growth in 2007, saw passenger arrivals decline by 20.9% in 2009.
Information and communications technology (ICT) has become one of the reasons why visitors choose Malta over other destinations. With excellent fixed and wireless networks, keeping connected while in Malta is easy. ICT can also be used to offer more information to tourists planning their holidays.
The ICT industry
Malta is now recognized as a major player in ICT services, not just in the Mediterranean region, but in the whole of the European Union as well. In 2007, Malta was also accepted as a member of the prestigious International Network of e-Communities (INEC), joining the world’s leading ICT locations. The Intelligent Community Forum has also chosen Malta as one of the world’s top 20 ‘smart communities’. The challenge that now lies ahead is in maintaining the momentum, because information and communications technology is in a constant state of flux and Malta must stay ahead of the game.
Malta is now a valid destination for foreign direct investment in the ICT industry. Under the Vertical Strategic Alliance (VSA) programme, the Ministry for Investment, Industry and Information Technology joined up with leading global ICT players to promote far-reaching educational and assistance-to-industry programmes. The Maltese government entered into VSAs with Microsoft Corporation, HP, Oracle, IBM, SAP and ESRI, worlleaders in their fields. Alfonso diIanni, Vice President of Oracle Corporation, said: “It is satisfying to have teamed up with the Maltese government in its journey to be the lighthouse in the Mediterranean, where ICT is concerned. Malta’s strategy and vision are a very good foundation for the country to become the ICT regional centre of excellence.” The estimated overall value of the investment made by the corporations in these VSAs exceeds €100 million. In 2006, 36% of the investment projects brought in by Malta Enterprise were in the field of ICT, including the agreement with Tecom Investments for the setting up of the US $ 300 million SmartCity project, which will generate at least 5,600 jobs and serve as the regional ICT services hub, transforming Malta into a global ICT leader.
Huge investments were made in all state schools, to ensure that children from every background are introduced to the use of computers as early in their lives as possible. More than 6,800 ECDL programmes have been provided over three years. Interest in ICT educational programmes has grown enormously. The University of Malta and MCAST are both attracting large numbers of students to these training courses. The my Potential programme gives extensive rebates on specialised ICT training courses.
Vision for future
By 2011 Malta’s broadband network will become as important as, if not more so than, its road network. Malta will forge a coalition with the telecoms providers, the Building Industry Consultative Council, the infrastructure authorities and the regulators to upgrade their networks to ubiquitous high-speed broadband serving all households. These networks should be capable of doubling their speed every 12 to 18 months. Broadband is a major economic driver, so they will take it over infrastructure like FTTU into homes wherever they happen to be. The government will bring together the players, using tax to promote and accelerate investment, and fuelling the demand for more services.
By James Zhang