Malta Tourism Authority chief Peter Vella says he is proud of the country’s rapid progress during his four-year tenure as its UK and Ireland director.
Vella, who took up the role in September 2015, will leave the post on 27 September, but has pledged to remain available in a consultancy and advisory capacity.
His multi-faceted career saw him join Horizon Holidays in the late 1980s before going onto oversee the rebrand and relaunch of Owners Abroad as First Choice.
He later served 12 years as Birmingham airport’s business development director, during which time he was instrumental in bringing in Emirates and Ryanair.
But it was amid a stint in construction, during which he set up an academies trust in Leeds, Vella saw an advert in TTG for directorship of the Malta Tourism Authority and sent off an ultimately successful application.
Speaking to TTG, Vella praised his predecessor Alex Incorvaja, who he said laid vital groundwork for a renewed tourism boom in Malta amid a period of rapid change and modernisation for the destination.
The country has since built its offering around four key areas of focus: transforming Malta into the number-one destination in Europe for LGBT travellers; championing Malta as a destination for families with older children and young adults; developing the country’s festival and night-life offering; and promoting capital Valletta as a city break destination.
“Our progress on LGBT rights has been absolutely remarkable,” Vella told TTG. “In 2012, Malta was just ahead of Azerbaijan in the ILGA Rainbow Europe index. By 2015, we were top – that’s something I’m incredibly proud of.
“In 2006, 70% people were against same-sex marriage. In 2012, the country narrowly voted in favour of legalising divorce. It was then the government realised society had changed. And in 2017, same-sex marriage was legalised. Attitudes have changed so quickly.”
Vella has also championed Malta among the travel trade, and believes around 50% of UK tourists are now heading to the country after booking through a travel agent.
“Malta is one of those countries about which a lot of people, including agents, have a lot of false perceptions. Not many have been there and lack confidence selling it, whereas they understand places like Greece, Tunisia and Egypt.
“We’ve held dozens of events across the country and launched a fam programme to address this, and it’s clearly working.”
Vella, 61, a dual British-Maltese national, moved to the Midlands in his youth, and these days lives in Worcestershire with his wife and two sons, with whom he has pledged to spend more time.
“We certainly have a few holidays booked,” Vella added. “We’re cruising across the Atlantic in October.”
A process to find and appoint Vella’s successor is under way.