Interview to MEP Roberta Metsola (Malta, EPP)
1. As an experienced MEP from a highly touristic country, what should be, in your opinion, the priorities of the new European Parliament to support sustainable tourism development?
The tourism industry is one of the biggest contributors to the Maltese economy and is the third-largest sector in the European Union — employing roughly 17 million people. While the tourism sector is clearly a strong driver of growth and jobs for many in Malta and regionally, it can impose considerable strains on the environment.
Europe’s competitiveness in the tourism industry gives it the responsibility to protect those working in the tourism industry. Yet, while tourism is a strong driver of economic growth and job creation, it needs to be sustainable, and legislation needs to strike the right balance in this regard.
As a member of the Intergroup on Sustainable Tourism and the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, this is an area I will work to seek consensus on within the European Parliament.
2. In your country, British tourists represent an important source market for tourism businesses and a high share of the overall tourist arrivals. In this context, Brexit is likely to seriously impact the tourism sector and growth. What can be done to mitigate this impact?
British tourists comprise almost one-third of all yearly visitors to Malta. A top priority post-Brexit will be ensuring the continued attractiveness of Malta as a holiday destination for them. Remaining competitive, attracting new sectors and focusing on diversification will help Malta to stay a key tourist destination for British holiday-goers.
We have to prepare properly for Brexit and move past uncertainty, including by preparing for potential worsening currency exchange rates between the Pound Sterling, the Euro and other currencies used in the EU currently. Any deal struck with the UK should keep in mind short term visits by UK nationals to EU countries and vice versa, to ensure that undue bureaucracy does not creep in. This would mean that countries, like Malta and Spain, which receive a high quantity of British tourists annually, would not suffer as a consequence.
3. The collapse of Thomas Cook had a massive negative impact on tourism and the economic well-being of many touristic destinations across many European countries such as Malta. In your opinion, what should the EU do to avoid any repetition of this crisis in the future?
With regards to the collapse of Thomas Cook, we have to acknowledge that better supervisory mechanisms must be in place to prevent collapses of this magnitude from occurring. 600,000 people were stranded away from home, with no alternative return trip provided.
The withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK will have to include a strong consumer protection component that is fit for purpose in an age of online travel agents and increased online commercial activity. Moving forward, the European Parliament must continue to do its utmost through legislation to promote a competitive environment between airlines to avoid similar occurrences. The EPP Group especially has been at the forefront in giving tens of millions of passengers in Europe access to air travel by opening up the market for more competition, high-quality services and transparent prices for travellers. In this way, travellers are protected, businesses are protected, and the interests of the single market are protected.