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Major Local Figures Speak Out at TSA’s Annual Conference

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The annual conference organized by the Tourism Studies Association (TSA) was held earlier on today at the Phoenica Hotel with the presentation topic that of career development in Malta’s Tourism Industry.

In front of a full audience, TSA President Gilbert Amato Gauci opened the conference by explaining TSA’s choice of topic as the result of the tourism sector being one that is heavily dependent on human resources and thus very permeable to students’ individual skills and attitudes helping them maneuverer their way up the career ladder.

The Hon. Dr. Edward Zammit Lewis, Minister for Tourism, took to the stand to explain his vision for the future of tourism which is of course a major component of Malta’s economy, making up for 30% of the GDP and 35% of government revenues. As such he believes that the industry should become increasingly specialized, with professionals enrolled in every link of the chain. The future for tourism students enrolled at the University of Malta (UoM) and at the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS) is therefore a bright one and yet Dr. Zammit Lewis pointed out that tourism remains a competitive environment. Students should therefore be trained in customer-driven experience as well as in more specialized areas to be rendered more capable of bridging the gap between what is taught to them during their tertiary education and what is actually required of them in the ever-changing modern tourism industry.

Paul Bugeja, the President of the Malta Hotels & Restaurants Association (MHRA), provided statistics that indicate towards the increasing number of tourists, both locally and internationally, and particular within the Mediterranean region which 33% of worldwide travelers choose as their holiday destination. In 2013, 1.6 million tourists visited Malta alone; that is around four times the size of the island’s population. With regards human resources, Bugeja placed the spotlight on three attributes that all worker in the industry should possess, namely a will to keep absorbing knowledge from as many angles as possible with a positive attitude, a desire to do one’s best to satisfy tourists, and an ability to balance one’s personal ambitions with the required ethics and values, such as genuine hospitability. With regards the future of Maltese workers in the expanding field, the MHRA President explained how his organization is in the process of setting up a Junior MHRA, the intention of which is to enable students to experience the reality of the tourism industry from as early an age as possible.

A panel discussion was then held. Dr. Nadia Theuma, Director of the Institute for Tourism, Travel & Culture acted as moderator with Dr. Ernest Azzopardi, chairman at ITS, Mr. John Magri, HR Development Manager at Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), Ms. Annika Galea, HR Direction at Hilton Malta, and Mr. Colin Baldacchino, a final year Tourism Studies student as the four speakers.
Theuma asked the speakers how their respective organizations are working at enhancing recruitment and career development to those youths interested in the tourism field and how they are managing to remain abreast of modern developments within the global tourism sphere. John Magri explained how the MTA tries to entice potential future workers from as early as Form 2 by delivering lectures related to future tourism-related jobs and by organizing outings to various industries in the field. Form 4 students are also offered the opportunity to spend a school week job shadowing a professional. They also set up EU funded courses such as ‘Advance’ that are directed at training people already involved in the tourism business in skills such as social marketing and higher management. A lot of research, as well as feedback from relevant organizations, goes into the design of such courses, thus ensuring that the skills that are being taught are both relevant to the contemporary world and highly valued by employers.

Dr. Ernest Azzopardi pointed out that ITS courses and modules are currently in a state of reform that will result in students not only learning culinary arts but also, for example, a third language besides English and Maltese, an incredibly valuable asset to possess in light of an increasing number of non-English speaking tourists choosing Malta as a holiday destination. He also emphasized the importance of flexibility, passion, and analytical skills for current students looking to build a career in tourism. He stated that international placements, such as those offered by ITS, can truly help build up these valued soft skills as well as expand students’ horizons far beyond the confines of Malta’s shores.

According to Annika Galea, the business philosophy that Hilton Malta operates under is one where new recruits tend to start near the bottom of the career ladder and are allowed to work their way up. In this respect, a University degree does not guarantee a graduate instant placement in a managerial role but does tend to result in him/her moving up through the ranks at a faster rate. Galea also highlighted students’ involvement in University organizations as a detail that employers tend to look out for in graduates’ CVs. From his part, Colin Baldacchino echoed Ms. Galea’s sentiments and told the audience how his involvement in the Board of Studies has taught him discipline, responsibility, and how to work as part of a team.

George Micallef, the Vice-President of the MHRA and a tourism product development consultant, delivered a presentation showing that tourism in Europe is set to grow by around 250 million tourists within the next fifteen years and that surveys suggest a 93% satisfaction level of tourists who have visited Malta. However, challenges remain in the need to manage growth within Malta’s geographical constraints on carrying capacity, to increase tourism in the winter months, to keep on improving Malta’s direct connectivity to other airports, and to keep ensuring the fluidity of professional training in light of new technology and new tourism demands such as a globally increasing environmental sensitivity.

It was then time for recent MA Tourism graduate Warren Sammut to recount his personal success story in the tourism business- from a barman to an interim manager and everything in between. TSA Vice-President Matthew Sargent closed the conference by reminding students of the importance of complementing their degrees with direct involvement within a student organization.

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