Heritage Malta has been experiencing steady annual growth for a few years now, and in 2017, the national agency for museums, conservation practice and cultural heritage witnessed another record year. Last year, an unprecedented 1.3 million visitors headed to the agency’s various cultural sites across the islands, which resulted in another record of €7 million in ticket sales.
“Similarly to what happened in 2016, Heritage Malta’s 2017 admission figures hit another all-time high. The majority of our museums and sites recorded an increase in the number of admissions,” says Ryan Vella, Senior Executive in Marketing and Sales at Heritage Malta. “Despite the closure of the National Museum of Fine Art, and limited access to the Palace State Rooms and Armoury due to Malta’s EU Presidency, we still managed to attract more visitors, with total admissions increasing by 12 per cent, and numbers are looking even more promising this year.”
Mr Vella asserts that the agency set a new and important objective this year – that of reaching out to the local audience. “To this end, we embarked on a series of open days with the main aim of attracting the local visitor, and admissions have shown that this objective is being reached. So far, more than 30,000 admissions were registered during the Heritage Malta open days – the response was, to say the least, impressive,” he asserts. “Heritage Malta also runs an extensive education programme for school children that includes school visits and other educational programmes.”
The agency’s initiatives to reach the local audience don’t end there, however, and recently the agency introduced the concept of renting some of its museums and sites as venues for private functions. “The museums and sites offer visitors an experience, while also displaying Malta’s rich history and culture. Museums and sites are an important element of our society which act to reinforce our identity, however, they are also buildings, assets that are otherwise left idle after hours,” says Mr Vella. “For our operations to remain sustainable, we came up with the concept of offering appropriate areas within our museums and sites as venues. The availability and use of these venues is limited, and has to reflect the agency’s core values of ‘protecting the cultural heritage entrusted to it’ in order to safeguard these assets.”
Mr Vella adds that the renting of venues has resulted in great support to Heritage Malta’s operations, not only through income generation but also by improving accessibility to those who choose to host an event at one of the agency’s exclusive sites. “The types of events which can be hosted are extensive. We offer several indoor venues that are ideal for conferences, team-building sessions and lectures. We also have numerous outdoor locations that can host weddings, product launches and fashion shows, among others,” he explains. “The most popular venues are those located in the Grand Harbour area, mainly Fort St Elmo, Fort St Angelo and the Malta Maritime Museum – all of them offer a unique setting for a memorable event.”
Besides offering a variety of fairly new services under its commercial arm, namely conservation consultancy, exhibition design, set-up and logistics, IT systems, web development for other museums and more, Heritage Malta also recently launched a new concept that speaks to the hearts of many Maltese: Taste of History, which marries Maltese gastronomy with the country’s history and culture. What inspired this new concept?
Taste of History - Captain Michele Picasso's 1791 dessert
“A rich culinary history discovered in historic documents and artefacts, including receipts, recipe books and kitchen inventories, inspired a number of Heritage Malta curators to research recipes, some of which had been lost for centuries prior to their re-discovery,” says Mr Vella. “Heritage Malta is collaborating with local farmers to bring ethical and sustainable food to those who wish to ‘taste history’, the food of our ancestors. Our curators are meticulous on the subject, making sure that food is prepared in the manner used back in the day, thus offering a unique, historical culinary experience. The Taste of History brand has now taken off and is registering significant feedback.”
A professional team of curators and chefs combine their expertise to recreate a range of dining experiences, from the paupers’ frugal snacks and the corsairs’ celebratory dinner to the Grand Master’s wine list, the Inquisitor’s Lent dinner and the merchant’s decadent dessert. One tried-and-tested menu, inspired by a corsair expedition conducted by Captain Michele Picasso in 1791, includes chickpea and broccoli soup, slow-cooked mutton served in pecorino and vegetable stew, and goat’s milk, cinnamon and lemon ice-cream, followed by coffee infused with blossom water.
“The initiative’s new website, www.tastehistory.org, and Instagram profile, tastehistorymt, offer a glimpse of the experience typically offered through a sample menu, however menus can vary depending on the client’s request and preferences,” Mr Vella explains. “Those interested are encouraged to get in touch for further details.”
Such initiatives organised by Heritage Malta are a means of revenue generation for the agency, which goes directly towards the many sites’ general maintenance and upkeep. Mr Vella states that costs are high – Heritage Malta’s annual expenditure for the upkeep of over 35 museums and sites reaches nearly €13 million. “Paid admissions during 2017, as well as profit from our museum shops, generated over €8 million. The Maltese Government subsidises the rest, which amounts to around €5 million.”
“To maintain our sites and collections, restoration and conservation works are constantly ongoing. Fortunately, Heritage Malta can rely on its employees, who are dedicated professionals and whose love for their profession makes it possible for the agency to adapt to external factors that influence the business environment we operate in,” Mr Vella adds. “At the beginning, the venue rentals and Taste of History brands were just experiments, concepts. Nowadays, they contribute significantly to the income generated by the agency, which is essential to sustain our operations. Our museum shops are also a major asset, contributing a decent yearly income and expanding via product development and publishing.”
Heritage Malta has arrived to this stage in its lifetime by adopting various business models to sustain itself, and by constantly trying to understand customer needs and demands in order to better position its services and products to meet such demands. “This is the most difficult model, especially getting to know what our audience wants, but of course it’s the most effective. We use our statistics to generate analytics and business intelligence, and make sure that our investment generates a return. We have started looking at marketing as an investment rather than a cost and have just skimmed the surface of metering our marketing initiatives to make sure our investment generates a sustainable and effective return,” Mr Vella explains.
He adds that the agency has changed the way it operates on many levels, for instance by doing cost-benefit reports of its own events before investing or giving a go-ahead on such events. “This has fostered a sense of awareness of costs and benefits in what we do, and departmental management accounting and cost centres are being introduced to the agency,” he asserts. “Such information will give important snapshots of museum performance to our curators and managers, and also allow management to set performance targets according to these reports. Many other methods are being tested, however, our greatest asset is our people. We invest in our people to achieve more and excel in whatever we do. And that should be our brand promise – excellence.”
This article originally appeared in Business Agenda