Strong wind warning for mass tourism


Extreme natural events, such as the violent gale of two weeks ago, can expose vulnerabilities with potentially serious impacts on the Maltese tourism industry.

Obliquely, mass tourism is itself listed as a hazard wherever destinations have been invaded by tourists.

At the first conference on natural hazards and tourism held in Malta last year, stakeholders were invited to start considering how communication could be improved by creating better partnerships.

A follow-up conference was organized to examine the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders such as hospitality providers and to propose an action plan.

After flying storm-nosed with colleagues on a blustery Saturday afternoon ahead of one of the worst storms ever to hit Malta, one of the conference organizers, Victoria Kennedy of the University of Liverpool Hope, described how, upon arrival at their Valletta hotel, they found this information for guests about the developing storm was not readily available.

Residents were aware of warnings from the Civil Protection Department to stay indoors unlike tourists in transit, many of whom were unaware conditions were worsening.

During the conference, it was noted that the link between a number of different systems such as CPD and the tourism industry may not be optimal.

“It was very lucky that no one was killed,” said David Chester, senior researcher at the School of Environmental Sciences at the University of Liverpool, who was also present at the conference.

Failure of tourism operators to take the necessary steps to educate visitors could end in disaster and bad press for Malta in visiting countries.

Dr Chester co-authored an article with the head of the geography department at the University of Malta, John Schembri, researcher Ritienne Gauci and other academics on natural hazards in the Maltese Islands.

Failure by tourism operators to take the necessary steps to inform visitors could end in disaster and very bad press for Malta in visiting countries

According to the article, Malta “witnessing a swelling of residents, seasonal workers (i.e. tourists) as well as foreign-born populations and an increase in the urban area”, Further research on the hazards would contribute to disaster risk reduction.

Architect Raymond Farrugia said the Ministry of Transport and Infrastructure is planning a coastal risk-focused unit in popular bathing areas. He said erosion, landslides and strong waves on the coast remain a constant danger. Previous deaths were mostly foreigners despite the apparent good weather at the time. Cliffside walks after storms can be especially dangerous.

One of the containers meant to serve as offices for contractors working on the Fortina Hotel project ended up in the hotel pool during the fierce February gale (right).

Raising community awareness of the looming dangers has become even more difficult due to Malta’s shift to individual Airbnb-style accommodation instead of the more easily controlled environment of hotel stays.

Janet Speake, professor at LHU, who joined the conference after giving a lecture at the University of Malta, spoke about the delicate art of ‘dealing with fear’ in the context of tourist warning about natural hazards.

Deputy Police Commissioner Martin Pullicino said distress calls from tourists or rescuers are on the rise. Some swimmers ignore signs warning of dangerous currents.

During last month’s storm, cars were seen driving onto the sidewalk to bypass a police cruiser placed deliberately across the road to close access to the worst-affected coastal areas of St Julian’s and BuÄ¡ibba .

An actor working in tourism and heritage in Gozo called for more security personnel to manage access to the upper parts of the citadel in strong winds. Visitors were sometimes run over by strong gusts and required medical treatment.

Reassuringly, Malta is better prepared for early tsunami warnings from the north, thanks to the presence of sensor buoys. However, this is not the case if a strong wave is coming from Africa or from the direction of Crete.

Looking at different categories of risk from a sociological point of view, mass tourism is also seen as a risk for communities. For example, an increase in the cost of commodities and rents for locals.

Professor Speake published an article on how Tigné Point has been “appropriated, redesigned and rewritten by architects and real estate developers to create high standard residential and commercial space for an affluent elite”.

In a recent survey by the Malta Tourism Authority, tourists were asked to rate the impact of overdevelopment on their vacation. Airbnb rentals are impacting hotel bookings which are down 25% this year, according to a leading operator in the tourism industry.

Many foreign investors buy properties for rent as Airbnb hosts. According to the December issue of Condé Nast Traveler, this has brought “a revolving door of travelers to previously residential buildings” across the world.

Yet a crackdown on Airbnb rentals in Los Angeles has included restricting hosts to only renting the house they live in for six months a year.

Some European cities have an even darker outlook. New laws were introduced in Amsterdam in January, reducing the rental period to 30 days per year. Paris and Barcelona have taken similar measures to protect permanent residents.

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