Valletta’s year-long stint as European Capital of Culture draws to a close this weekend with final celebrations all around the capital. But, once the curtain comes down on the city and its bountiful cultural programme reaches its end, what’s next? Will businesses in the city continue to thrive? Will visitors still be drawn to Valletta as a bustling attraction? What legacy will Valletta 2018 leave on the capital city?
Frank V. Farrugia, President of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, said 2018, as the year Valletta was crowned European Capital of Culture, built on the successes currently being registered by the country as a whole in several other areas, no less the economy. “The past 12 months have proven to be a veritable renaissance for the capital city, built on a multi-year regeneration plan that placed Valletta at centre-stage of a year-long celebration,” he asserted. “One hopes that the entire Valletta 2018 process will have found fertile ground, and establish deep roots that will continue to deliver fruit as part of a rich heritage that will survive it. The fact that Government is already committed to transforming the Valletta 2018 Foundation into a cultural agency for the city bodes well.”
Mr Farrugia said that businesses in the city had the opportunity to participate in an extended programme of activities that kept punters visiting throughout the year, including during the slower months. “Opportunities of investment are evident in the number of new private projects and businesses that have set up shop in the city. The multiplier effect of such initiatives generated a groundswell of activity, opportunity and investment,” said Mr Farrugia. “As activity in the city continues to grow though, this offers new challenges. A balance between the commercial community and Valletta residents still remains a concern. Management of the city, that provides the necessary services and resources to businesses to carry out their daily operations unhindered while seeing to the needs of residents, remains an important goal.”
Going forward, Mr Farrugia said he hopes that, as the Foundation always claimed, “Valletta 2018 [will] be just the beginning of a new lease of life to the city, that will generate a multiplier effect of growth and well-being to all involved. As a Chamber, we are proud to have been part of this exciting journey from the very beginning, sitting on the Board of Governors of the Foundation since 2011, housing the actual executive team of the Foundation within the Exchange Buildings, and having the Valletta 2018 flag fly proudly on our facade.”
JanKarl Farrugia, Managing Director at Hospitality Ventures International, said Valletta 2018 was always expected to leave a long-term positive legacy on not just the capital, but on Malta at large, and proved to be the catalyst of Valletta’s long-awaited regeneration.
“Five long years of local and foreign investment within the walls of the city saw the development of new infrastructural projects, the restoration of public spaces and buildings, rethinking of logistics in the city, redevelopment of private and public buildings into hospitality and catering offerings, museums and retail, as well as an overhaul of the general upkeep of the city, which all led to this year, 2018,” he asserted. “Like any business investment, the vision is always over a number of years, and similarly, the public and private sector want this to last as long as possible.”
With respect to the hospitality industry which he operates in, Mr Farrugia said that Valletta 2018 created an urge for investors and operators to raise the bar in the product and service being delivered. “Unfortunately, one cannot compare hotel guest stays to previous years. Up to five years ago, one could only find around 200 beds in Valletta, other than the large hotels on the outskirts of the city. At present, the number of beds has increased dramatically, across more than 30 to 40 boutique hotels, guest houses and serviced apartments. This has impacted the rest of local business in the capital, from restaurants and cafés to retail and attractions.”
Apart from enhancing the image of Valletta among locals and visitors, Valletta 2018 also presented the international travel industry with an opportunity to offer a new destination to travellers, said Mr Farrugia. “Although Malta was already a destination for travellers for decades, Valletta was just a place to visit for cultural gems, such as St John’s Co-Cathedral and various museums. Today, it is an experience to stay in Valletta and live its history.”
However, opportunities always come with challenges. “Over the last few years, the major concerns for residents due to increased numbers of visitors have been traffic, pollution and cleanliness. The interplay of these concerns within such a small city is an ongoing challenge which has been on top of Government’s agenda to find solutions, and considerable improvement has been witnessed,” said Mr Farrugia. “Valletta’s narrow streets and few access points pose problems when multiple development works are going on. The use of trucks, cranes, and large-sized vans cause havoc and interfere with the day-to-day life and well-being of the city.”
As for the long-term effects of Valletta 2018, Mr Farrugia asserted that it is in the interest of stakeholders and citizens at large to care for the unique product that is Valletta. “Business owners need to abide by the policies, rules and regulations set forth specifically for the capital, which might differ from other localities due to its nature. They need to maintain their assets and the immediate areas surrounding them, work closely together in business associations to protect their investments, and communicate concerns and constructive feedback to relevant authorities and agencies,” he said. “Government has played a key role in the regeneration of the capital, and by setting up the Valletta Cultural Agency, it will ensure that Valletta 2018 is an open-ended success story for the benefit of locals and tourists who have yet to visit.”
Finally, Alfred Fenech, Executive Council Member of the General Retailers and Traders Union (GRTU), said that what was earned and experienced throughout this year and in the years preparing for Valletta 2018 will be “cherished, renewed and extended.” He added “many artists were given the opportunity to participate in the Valletta 2018 programme and gained a lot from the experience, while the general public had the opportunity to enjoy a variety of cultural activities. Valletta 2018 will hopefully not stop in 2018.”
Mr Fenech said he is hopeful that the improvements made to the city will be maintained and upheld for the years to come. “The main objective shouldn’t just be 2018, but a long-term vision for the capital. We hope that the infrastructural improvements will be monitored and maintained, and that the cultural and artistic events will not stop with the close of 2018, but will keep growing and improving throughout the coming years.”
This article originally appeared in The Malta Business Observer