Travel Talk with Tolene van der Merwe of the Malta Tourism Authority

Travel Talk with Tolene van der Merwe of the Malta Tourism Authority

Malta is a year-round tourism destination in the Mediterranean Sea. The island nation has a landmass of just 316 square kilometres, meaning it could fit inside London almost five times.

That compact size helps make Malta an ideal short break or holiday destination, as it does not take long to travel between even the most distant points of the main island and neighbouring Gozo.

Malta inset1
Malta bay

“It’s easy enough to get from Valletta, the capital city, to Mdina or even across the Gozo. So travel to be able to do scuba diving in the morning to then a beautiful hike in the afternoon is very doable and affordable,” explains Tolene van der Merwe.

Flights between London and Malta International Airport take around three hours, making it a viable alternative to other destinations in the Mediterranean.

“We’ve got incredible hotel offerings, especially for a long weekend or a short break. Malta is ideal for that with everything from three-star right up to five-star, including the beautiful Phoenicia Hotel in Valletta. The boutique hotel offering is growing. That we find very much around the Valetta area. There are amazing boutique hotels opening up,” she says, hinting at the likes of The Capital and Palazzo Prince d’Orange – properties that tend to appeal to travellers aged between 35 and 50 who have a mid-level accommodation budget and enjoy a touch of luxury.

Travelling outside of the peak holiday season maximises the opportunities for travellers to get good deals on accommodation.

Malta’s attractions

“We’ve got the history and culture, and if you’re looking for something a bit new, we’ve got ziplining through MC Adventure,” says van der Merwe of a country dotted with Neolithic sites, including Ġgantija Archaeological Park – one of Malta’s three UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

The Tunnara Museum is a recently opened historic attraction. “It is based in the northern bay of Mellieħa and it’s in a battery that was constructed in 1716. So that’s during the time of the reign of the Knights of Malta and that shows you a little bit about the history of tuna fishing. It’s an interactive centre with videos,” explains the Malta Tourism Authority’s Director – UK and Ireland.

Go to Gozo

“Gozo is becoming more of a destination in itself,” says van der Merwe of Malta’s second-largest island. “It’s very easy to get from the airport to Valletta and get the fast ferry around to Gozo. The fast ferry takes about 45 minutes. They call it the fast ferry because it gets you

to the main sectors of Malta, whereas the one from Ċirkewwa, which is in the north, takes slightly longer to get to but it’s only a 25-minute ferry ride.”

“Gozo is more your adventure hub with open spaces. There are some beautiful hotels, some amazing self-catering farmhouses and the whole gastronomy scene is picking up. It’s a destination on its own and it’s nice to base yourself there and then go across to Malta to do some of the daytime activities, as mainly people do the other way around,” she adds.

Sustainability in Malta

“As a destination, sustainability is one of the main core features in our tourism strategy from 2021 to 2030… Because it’s easy to get around, we’re trying to spread people to different areas that are not necessarily the original tourist areas like Mellieha Bay,” says van der Merwe.

“Obviously, we are heavily reliant on flights as you cannot get to us easily any other way. By 2030, we want to be completely electric vehicles,” she adds of transport in Malta.

“It’s easy enough to get around…Malta is known for its fantastic bus route network. It’s fully air-conditioned and very comfortable. That saves you driving cars, renting and taxis,” says van der Merwe, pointing out the Explore Card that is valid for seven days and offers unlimited travel for €15 for children up to 10 years old and €21 for adults.

“Malta is trying to become quite self-sustainable from the food side of things. Gastronomy is a huge part of what we are. A lot of our ingredients are sourced locally to restaurants,” she says of the food scene, which includes farm-to-table offerings and foraging.

Wine tourism is also picking up with wineries offering tastings, tours and lunch.

Recruitment of travel agents from the UK and Ireland is currently underway for the next annual Malta Academy fam trip. The 2023 edition, held in April, saw 50 travel agents head to Malta.

Malta fam trip

“The way we recruit is based on incentives with B2B operators or when Peter Green, our trade trainer, is out on the road and there’s someone that he sees with great potential for the destination. We sometimes run competitions on our Facebook group,” explains van der Merwe. Subjects of monthly webinars are also announced within that group. That’s not the only way of learning about Malta: “We’ve got an online Malta training programme that’s got various modules; a focus on families, gastronomy and dining. As travel agents progress through that, we keep an eye on them. We can choose from there because we understand that they’ve taken time to do the training.”

Maltese culture

Villages across Malta hold summer festivals, known as festas, that visitors to the island are welcome to attend. On 24 August pop star Robbie Williams will be performing at The Granaries in Floriana. From 7 to 17 September 2023 the Maltese capital will host EuroPride and plans are already underway for 2024’s Lost and Found Festival, which attracts lovers of dance music.

“Malta is interesting for any demographic,” concludes van der Merwe. “There was a preconception that Malta is for retirees that are going to go for three or four months at a time. We’ve worked really hard to change that perception on the consumer-facing side. Malta really is a destination for everyone – our tagline ‘More to Explore’ is about exactly that.”

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