InterContinental Malta has just completed an extensive investment and refurbishment programme. Can you give us a brief overview of the project?
During the past three years, we added two additional floors to InterContinental Malta to accommodate 30 state-of-the-art suites. The Highline Suites have definitely raised the benchmark of luxury accommodation on the Maltese Islands. This summer we also opened Skybeach – our new pool deck on the 19th floor, which boasts an infinity pool, along with a champagne bar and restaurant. Skybeach is exclusively open for guests staying in our Highline Suites and for guests with seasonal summer memberships. But that’s not it. We have also added the InterContinental Conference Arena, and refurbished the Club InterContinental Lounge, the Paranga Restaurant, the InterContinental Beach club, as well as the Cynergi Health and Fitness Centre. These projects have left the hotel in a fantastic position for the future. The Eden Leisure Group, who owns the hotel, also opened up a new casino in December 2016, while we will shortly see the opening of the new Holiday Inn Express adjacent to InterContinental Malta. Investment in the hotel infrastructure will of course continue in the coming years. InterContinental Malta opened in 2003, and we look forward to seeing the remainder of our rooms and public areas getting a well-deserved upgrade. In other words, there is more to come from InterContinental Malta.
The Club Lounge already received a makeover, and over the next couple of years the hotel’s other rooms will also get a new look.
What is your assessment of the recent performance of InterContinental Malta, and Malta’s tourism sector in general?
We can look back at a few very successful years with record tourist numbers, and we also had a very good start to 2017. Seasonality is no longer a main issue. Malta, with its 300 days of sunshine, has become an all-year-round destination. Occupancy levels are also high during the off-peak season, and this has been mainly brought about by the rise of conference and business travel. Some 60% of our guests are today leisure travellers, while 40% are conference or business travellers. We, as well as many other market players, have benefited from this trend, and many of Malta’s largest hotels and venues are currently undergoing expansions to cater for the demand.
What needs to be done to ensure that the sector continues performing strongly?
We need to look at the sustainability of this growth. The size of the island warrants a careful update of the tourism policy and a long-term vision that will guide the development of the industry in the years to come. The lack of cleanliness and order that persists in some of the popular tourist areas, as well as the rapid deterioration in the urban environment as a result of overdevelopment, in particular in the Sliema and St. Julian’s area, are unfortunately a reality.
Tourism has economic and social benefits for the nation, but we also need to analyse the cost of the tourism activity in order to draw up a plan of action that meets the country’s overall needs. We need to manage visitor numbers, and we need to target market segments that are more economically efficient in order to improve the value-add in the tourism sector. One example is luxury travel.
How do you see this segment developing?
I believe that the larger the offering, the more people will see Malta as a luxury travel option. We need to do more to move away from this low-cost stigma. This will also help ensure Malta’s market position in the years to come. Demand usually works in cycles, and I am pretty convinced that destinations in North Africa, such as the Red Sea, which are currently dormant destinations due to safety concerns, will re-emerge as competitors. I think we need to be very conscious of the competing destinations and ensure that we have created a sufficiently strong niche for Malta to compete by the time they recover. We look forward to growing the luxury travel segment together with our competitors. Luxury is not about prices; it is about experiences. Yes, the island has all these top-notch attractions, but it also offers a wealth of unique and authentic experiences. Access is rarely a problem. We already had guests that rang the church bells in the cathedral in Mdina, while others were granted a private tour through Malta’s National Archives.
The perfect spot: Skybeach, a lido with a rooftop infinity pool, is the latest luxury lifestyle offering from InterContinental Malta. Located on the hotel’s 19th floor, Skybeach offers amazing views over the island.
What would you highlight as the main challenges Malta’s tourism sector is facing?
Recruitment is an issue, and it will be an even bigger challenge in the future if we don’t inspire young people to join this industry. Tourism is a creative and dynamic industry, offering interesting career opportunities and rapid advancement. It is not uncommon for people to join the industry with an entry-level job but moving on to very senior roles, and in some cases, global positions. However, we need to do more to promote our industry to Malta’s young. We are already working with the Institute of Tourism Studies (ITS). We have very experienced colleagues offering experienced-based lectures and attending careers days over there, but I also think that we can do much more in this regard; I have no issue telling students about our sector and explaining how rewarding a career in tourism and hospitality can be. We also look forward to getting to know more about ITS’ future plans, and we want to be involved to make sure that what is being taught in the classrooms is actually relevant to today’s working environment.
The Eden Leisure Group has just invested in a new international conference space – the InterContinental Arena and Conference Centre. What makes Malta unique as a destination for meetings, conferences and events?
Malta has quality and unique conference venues and is as competitive as major European cities such as Barcelona or Athens are. The new Intercontinental Arena and Conference Centre includes seven new meeting rooms and a completely new main hall, seating more than 1,200 people. But Malta also benefits from an extremely flexible offsite venue offering: gardens, bastions, palazzos, wine estates and old fishing villages. There is an abundance of options, which is one of Malta’s main selling points, while our great weather means there is little need for an event back-up plan. Many destinations attempt to mirror Malta’s welcoming attitude and great event flexibility, but not many can compete.
The InterContinental Arena Conference Centre covers a total of 3,600 square metres, making it one of the largest exhibition spaces on the island.
How would you describe your personal experience in Malta and what is your future outlook?
I travelled a lot and worked in 14 different countries. All these places are unique and different, and it is difficult to compare. I have been in Malta since 2014, which means I have been here longer than in many other destinations. It has been very rewarding to see the transformation of the InterContinental Malta during this time and being able to oversee projects from start to finish. Malta, at the moment, is a destination in demand. The events in North Africa have pushed business in Malta’s way – and much faster and at a higher rate than many had expected. As I said, Malta now needs to make sure that it is prepared for the time these destinations come back, and I am very excited to be part of this journey.
South African / Dutch national Martin van Kan has been based in Malta since 2014 when he was appointed Area General Manager Central Europe & Southern Mediterranean for InterContinental Hotels and Resorts. He is a graduate of Ecole Hotelier Les Roches School of Hotel Management, Switzerland and has worked within the InterContinental Hotels Group since 1984. He has managed InterContinental hotels in Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, China and the UAE.