On Friday 1 July 2022 at the Palace Hotel in Sliema, the Institute for Tourism, Travel and Culture (ITTC) in conjunction with Touchpoint Precision launched its first event in the series of ‘Providing an Interface Between Academia and the Tourism Industry: ITTC University Students and Graduates Research Showcase’.
Six final year students from the Bachelor of Arts in Tourism Studies were given the opportunity to present their dissertation research which focused on current issues in tourism. This industry paper contains a synthesised version of the presentations which were delivered to key tourism industry stakeholders. It also presents in its concluding remarks, a reflection on the research which was presented and how this can be utilised by the industry to improve the quality of the tourism offer. This industry report is being published by Prof. Marie Avellino, Director of ITTC and Dr Dane Munro who initiated and coordinated the event. It is planned to prepare industry reports after every Showcase event, and these industry reports will be distributed to stakeholders and are freely available on the ITTC website, www.um.edu.mt/ittc, ITTC Facebook and www.touchpointprecision.com.
The main idea behind this venture is that the students’ and ITTC’s academics’ research and ideas need to be presented to the tourism stakeholders in order to serve both the industry and academia. We aim to achieve this through regular industry reports that highlight the research conclusions and through the feedback provided by local hospitality stakeholders.
Earlier in 2022 the University of Malta and Touchpoint Precision signed a memorandum of understanding regarding the ‘Showcase’. This event could not have taken place without the support of the stakeholders themselves. Mr Damon Allan of Touchpoint Precision was crucial in supporting this initiative by actively engaging with the participating students as well as assisting with the organisation of the event and attracting sponsors.
Six third-year BA (Hons.) students presented the conclusions of their dissertations to a diverse public of tourism industry stakeholders. After each presentation, lively discussions followed between the students and the audience. This also answered positively the question if the programme of studies at the ITTC and the research outcomes are resonating the reality of the local tourism industry. Due to the positive response of the stakeholders and participants, the next edition of this event will be held in early 2023.
The topics included
• How to engage with band clubs to give them a place in tourism by Michaela Maria Chircop
• Push & pull factors in local five-star hotels by Maria Cassar
• A proposal for a new mobile application for the Malta International Airport by Christabel Buhagiar
• The state of gastronomy in Maltese tourism by Alessia Camilleri
• The role of Generation Z in tourism regeneration by Kylie Grech
• New suggestions how to incorporate the Maltese iconic buses in cultural heritage tourism by Xanthe Marie Briffa
1: How to engage with band clubs to give them a place in tourism - by Michaela Maria Chircop
One of the most popular tourist attractions, especially during the summer months, relates to the outside celebrations of the Maltese village festas. This dissertation looks at the Maltese festa, nominated by Malta for the UNESCO world intangible heritage list, and takes a closer look at the local band clubs. It is argued that the band clubs, one very important element of these festas, are not being given their due importance, and tourists are thus missing out on a significant component within the festa tradition. The aim of this study is to identify whether band clubs are interested in developing themselves into a Maltese cultural tourism product and what facilities and activities they can offer in line with this evolution. This dissertation proposes a set of guidelines for interested band clubs that wish to engage in tourism.
It further analyses the cultural heritage of the Maltese band clubs and new trends in tourism, to evaluate whether band clubs can be successfully marketed as a unique experience to tourists. The combination of band club activities and tourism requisites highlights the benefit that may be derived towards the preservation of these clubs and to encourage more volunteers to join.
Conclusion of the study
It has emerged that band clubs cannot meaningfully engage in tourism on their own and they require the full support of policymakers and stakeholders. This type of tourism could be used to divert the masses into a more culturally directed form of tourism, both in high and low tourism seasons. One way would be for band clubs to be marketed within the niche of faith-based tourism and cultural tourism, and other experiential and special interest tourism markets. This suggests smaller groups for a high value interactive experience. Band club members and locals are to be involved in the process so that they will not feel that tourists are invading their space.
Even though some band clubs had organised tourism activities in the past, it could be done in a more organised way and offered on a national level to both locals and tourists. Emphasis is on enhancing the ‘band club’ experience linked to everyday social activities, music lessons, art and design of street and church decorations, the importance of statues (and how to carry them!), education on fireworks, band marches and general festa celebrations. These experiential events will also help to educate more people about the cultural heritage of band clubs, to keep these traditions and cultural heritage alive.
It is understood that each band club has its own heritage, activities and facilities to offer and that here is an inherent competition between the clubs. However, creating a network of ‘friendly’ band clubs would make for a stronger and more diverse product such as a common patron saint. It would be of great interest for tourists to learn how a same patron-saint is at the same time a different phenomenon in different localities.
To promote the phenomenon of the band club to visitors and locals
Interactive experiences and workshops on music, art, food & local produce, artisans
Education of tourists
2: Push & pull factors regarding local five-star hotels - by Maria Cassar
Moving forward towards a post-Coronavirus era, one might notice how the tourism industry is expected to recover and return back to normal. Many 5-star hotels around the island are evaluating their facilities and amenities and how these can help in attracting guests towards their hotels rather than to their competitors. This paper attempts to analyse the importance of such push and pull factors in 5-star hotels from a management perspective and their importance in attracting travellers to the island and to the hotels.
The Push-Pull theory has been extensively used in studies to obtain a better understanding of travel motivators in selecting a destination and/or hotel property. Push factors represent the desire to escape and to seek new opportunities. Pull factors are often considered as external forces representing what a destination has to offer; in Malta’s case the magnet included both the cultural and leisure aspects.
Conclusion of the study
Different characteristics were discussed by the chosen interviewees. The majority of participants agreed that the most important facility which push clients to choose a 5-star hotel are the variety of restaurant facilities supplied by the hotel. Another important push factor highlighted was the value of room amenities and how they vary in different ways and among competitors, in order to reach different types of clients. In addition, it was found that eco-certification is becoming increasingly critical as a tipping point in visitors’ decision making.
Participants noted that hotel marketing is very essential to gain a competitive advantage over others, as it also assists to boost electronic word-of-mouth through positive reviews on the various social media and review platforms.
Furthermore, the research suggested that the presence of cultural authenticity plays an important role as a strong pull factor in branded 5-star hotels. It was recommended to display local products and features of Maltese cultural identity so that guests may appreciate the local feel within their accommodations. More often than not, guests are looking for a hotel property that offers that sense of place feeling.
Offer more variety and personalization through the room amenities
Promote local products and feature them
To improve the links between the grey (culture) and blue (sea & sun) opportunities
Branded hotels or chains should be encouraged to introduce a feeling of ‘Malteseness’ wherever possible.
3: A proposal for a new mobile application for the Malta International Airport - by Christabel Buhagiar
This study sets out to understand whether there is the need for a mobile application as part of the Malta International Airport’s marketing strategy. The objective of the researcher was to identify the needs of tourists and locals, through the co-creation process, and to analyse the impact of using a mobile application on an individual’s airport experience. Malta International Airport is always seeking opportunities to the enhance customer experience, and the researcher believed that based on a literature review, such a communication tool can be one way of enhancing the customer’s level of satisfaction.
Conclusion of the study
The study found that an app would be beneficial and welcomed by the majority of airport visitors. Mobile applications are more user friendly than websites on a phone, support easier airport navigation, and also provide for a better airport experience. A mobile application as part of the marketing strategy of MIA would provide three main benefits: easily accessible information, allow for planning ahead to reduce stress levels and a more personalized experience.
Based on the author’s research, she identified the following features among interviewees, in no particular order of preference:
a virtual map of the airport
live flight updates
security waiting times
a live chat
discounts or exclusive offers from shops available in the airport
food and beverage outlets within the airport and those in the vicinity
traffic updates related to the roads surrounding the area
lost and found
all other services and amenities
The study identified the age groups most interested in the development of a mobile application for the MIA and compared the results with readily available NSO stats from the same group that ranged from 25 to 44 years of age. The fact that the age group in the paper is the same age group from the NSO stats helps to corroborate the author’s findings.
The author notes that the mobile app would be deemed useless among interviews should the features become useless and irrelevant.
A better MIA experience
Advertising opportunities for marketers
The potential for stakeholders in retail, food & beverage and other services to communicate with prospective customers
The generation of links to other websites and platforms
4: The state of gastronomy in Maltese tourism – by Alessia Camilleri
Gastronomy tourism in Malta has been gaining increased attention during the last two to three years. Tourists are seeking specialised gastronomic experiences whilst ensuring that everything is conducted in a sustainable manner. Although people travel for different reasons, gastronomy has certainly been a motivating factor for travel. Gastronomy is also being recognised as a powerful force in enhancing a destination brand’s identity and image. This study analysed the suppliers’ side of gastronomy and tourism, namely hotels, restaurants, a local authority, and local travel agencies.
Conclusion of the study
Although improvements have begun during these past two to three years, Malta is not being effectively branded as a gastronomical destination. Local authorities have to date promoted Malta’s gastronomy through events and social media marketing with other stakeholders following suit with the hope of establishing a special interest market.
The study concluded the following:
The supply-side of tourism faces various barriers and limitations in their efforts to realize a Maltese gastronomy brand
Suppliers believe that globalisation has resulted in more people opting for industrialised food rather than the local cuisine
The effects of climate change is a burden on local producers
The Michelin guide has aided by putting Malta on the map for gastronomy, however it was noted that Michelin restaurants are not for everyone
It was noted that an important brand of the slow food movement is missing in Malta including widespread concepts such as farm to fork and sustainable farming
There is a need to improve and update the current system of gastronomical branding
It was a common perception of the interviewed suppliers that food is considered as culture and/or as an attraction. The majority furthermore noted that if gastronomy is not given more importance, local food culture and traditions are at risk of being lost.
The overall impression is that local gastronomy tourism has a lot of growth potential. The focus should shift from quantity to quality tourism with the emphasis on farmers, their produce and what restaurateurs can provide through food experiences. Local networks should be supported through marketing initiatives to help strengthen their storytelling efforts and thus connect with tourists on an emotional.
1) Increased awareness of local producers to the local population and tourists alike.
2) Support gastronomy suppliers by promoting authentic or genuine through “buy local”
3) The gastronomy and wine industry have an opportunity to enhance the national identity of Malta and Gozo to a niche market
4) The tourism authorities should engage gastronomy stakeholders in future tourism strategies
5: The role of Generation Z in tourism regeneration - by Kylie Grech
This dissertation will be of interest to outbound travel organisers, as this study sets to explore Malta’s Gen Z viewpoint of travelling whilst in a pandemic. The Covid 19 pandemic has in many ways reshaped not only how people travel but why they travel. To coincide with this, travel brands have struggled to ensure confidence in travel. According to many reports, Generation Z has been identified as a key to travel recovery, due to their travel preference, behaviour, and motivations. Thus, this paper aims to assist the reader in better understanding these reasons and how a travel brand may cater to the needs of a Gen Z traveller, not only during a pandemic but also outside of one.
Conclusion of the study
Generation Z (born between 1996 – 2012) are key to travel recovery. In 2021, Expedia Group Media Solutions stated that this generation will take on ‘revenge travel’ as a result of missed experiences. They are financially independent (full time job/part-time student or full-time student with a part-time job), having the advantage of paying for their own travels. In view of the pandemic, results revealed that Malta’s Gen Z would like to escape from their daily routine and take part-in activities that provide authentic experiences. However, for one to do this, they are in search of value for money destinations that provide safety and security but also once-in- a lifetime experiences. Gen Z are known to be financially conscious by setting monthly budgets to save money and enjoy their social life.
These results have been compared with the ETC Corporate of 2020, showing that these pull motivators are similar to other Gen Z markets with a key difference being that Maltese Gen Z’s value once-in-a-lifetime memorable experiences over the availability of cheap flights. Nonetheless, hassle-free travel, low flight and accommodation prices, flexible cancellation options in booking platforms also remain important.
Gen Zs in this study affirmed that tourism brands need to be honest in their marketing through review sites and video advertising. Specifically, Gen Z markets see YouTube as the most trusted platform to capture insight into a destination or travel product. One very important finding is that this generation, who is heavily influenced by social media, is discouraged by travel influencers who they deem to be untrustworthy.
1) New opportunities for outbound travel organisers with Gen Z travellers
2) Designing new memorable experiences for incoming Gen Z travellers
3) Altering the way social media platforms market to attract Gen Z travellers
4) Rethinking value for money as value for experiences
6: New suggestions how to incorporate the Maltese iconic buses in cultural heritage tourism - by Xanthe Marie Briffa
In recent years there has been an upsurge of interest in Malta’s cultural tourism products. This dissertation explores the traditional Maltese buses as a salient asset to the cultural heritage of the Maltese islands. The paper aims to explore the feasibility of sustainably reviving the traditional Maltese buses for tourism purposes. Within Malta there are currently general tours that are conducted by traditional buses however the author aims to explore other innovative uses of the cultural icon. Recognizing that the grey or cultural tourism economy is a vital sector, the author investigated the current and potential uses of the Maltese bus that contribute it their preservation.
Although there are already tours taking place in some of the more common localities, there are aspects of the experience that could be enhanced to provide more context of the buses’ significant history. These may include such elements as the colours, grill, letterings, the driver and conductor Furthermore, stakeholders should explore including cultural excursions in localities that are not normally explored by tourists; each having their own rich and distinct history and attractions.
Promotion and networking:
There are endless opportunities to highlight aspects of the Maltese bus through social media and a cooperation among NGOs and governmental entities alike should work harder to promote these buses as a tourism product to the extend of being incorporated into tourism policies.
The author also recommends that further research should be done on the history and skills regarding the artwork and craftsmanship that embellishes the Maltese buses, such the cabin area, the tberfil, the religious niche and inscription, the chrome grills, and much more. Workshops could be organized to give the visitors a feel of what it takes to decorate a bus and to discover the meaning behind it all. The history of the buses should not be forgotten; their history needs a place in the school curricula, in tourism related publications and promotional materials. Furthermore, by incorporating all elements of the Maltese bus, it provides new opportunities for storytelling.
From the results of the data collected, the researcher believes that Maltese buses used for tours should have an LPG fuel or hydrogen system. Although converting these buses to electric is technically possible, the “traditional” feel of riding one would be lost.
1) Tourist guide training and storytelling
2) Designing dedicated branding and marketing for a genuine product
3) Villages, buses and dgħajjes make a wonderful combination in nostalgia tours
4) Rethinking the use of the buses in tours both for locals and visitors
Overall conclusion of this first Showcase
These dissertations as well as others which were submitted by the graduating Undergraduate Class of ’22 clearly indicate that there is a dire need to understand the rapidly changing tourism consumption patterns, decision making criteria and the demand for a satisfactory experience. Some of these changes were already on the cards, however the Pandemic probably accelerated them. From a practical perspective, it is of the utmost importance for industry entrepreneurs, investors, and destination marketing specialists to use this information to predict behavioural models of tourists. In this way, we can collectively ensure the sustainability of our tourism industry. For example the research of Kylie Grech not only confirms to us that this cohort is all out for revenge travel, but more importantly it spells out to us that GenZs do not trust influencers – they see through this form of marketing as industry financed and therefore not to be relied on. Therefore the industry must make changes to the current trend of using influencers to market their travel proposition in a diverse way. It also raises the question – is this applicable only to GenZers or is it spreading to other cohorts, and if so, who follows and is influenced by the media influencers?
We then consider the research carried out by Michaela Maria Chircop and Xanthe Marie Briffa, who focused on Maltese Band Clubs and the old Malta Buses. Two young students who have presented ‘old wine in new bottles’ and it worked! A fresh perspective on cultural heritage which some may feel should be relegated to the back, but their research has shown us how these two cultural icons can not only be ‘new and cool’ experiences but their revamping will benefit local communities, which in actual fact is an important aspect and an oftly forgotten aspect of long-term sustainability. They just need entrepreneurs and innovators to bring these ideas to fruition and present them to the new waves of visitors that will be coming to our shores.
The state of gastronomy in Maltese tourism was looked through a new perspective by Alessia Camilleri. Like everything else in modern tourism, it is all about the experience. Introducing events and social media marketing can be helpful only when the experiential basics are covered thoroughly. Besides food, service and ambiance are keys to a successful gastronomy experience. How easy is it to communicate with the waiting staff? In how far are the suppliers linking their culinary products and services to the local Maltese culture? And finally, less pretentions and a stronger focus on the overall quality of food would help in marketing and branding Malta as a ‘foody’ destination.
Malta has become a mature tourism destination over the years, and has proven to be on top of technological developments. The suggestion of Christabel Buhagiar to develop an app for the Malta International Airport (MIA) is therefore an example of common sense. All stakeholders in and around the airport would benefit from such a common application. A satisfactory MIA experience would offer a positive impression to incoming visitors, and confirm the positive Malta experience on departure. Furthermore, the local population who frequents the MIA would be able to benefit too. An MIA app is then an example of good practice for the entire tourism industry sector.
A more inward-looking experience is offered by Maria Cassar and her perception of Push and Pull factors for five-star hotels. Fortunately, her research found a confirmation of common understanding of the push factors driving visitors to book their stay in these establishments. More work needs to be done on the pull factors, that is, the destination as a magnet. A greater experience can be had when hotels personalise their amenities and show a greater affinity with the concept of Malteseness. Incorporating more local products and / or closer connections to Malta’s cultural experiences would seamlessly connect to the international corporate outlook of those five-star hotels which belong to a franchise.
The ITTC and Touchpoint Precison are working on the second edition of the ITTC University Students and Graduates Research Showcase.
The video of the event can be found on https://www.youtube.com/@touchpointprecision