Each year, for the past 32 years, the European Union designates two cities as the European Capitals of Culture. In 2018, Valletta, Malta, and Leeuwarden, the Netherlands are the two cities honored with this designation.

Additionally, 2018 is also the European Year of Cultural Heritage that aims to encourage people to discover and engage with Europe’s cultural heritage.

And, to add to the mix, 2018 is also the EU-China Tourism Year that is designed to help European Union tourism businesses, authorities, and all other stakeholders to participate in successful commercial and cultural exchanges between the EU and China. Its specific objectives include promoting lesser-known destinations and improving travel and tourism experiences.

All these exciting events led us to dive deeper into how Valletta, a 450-year-old city on Malta rich in culture but relatively unknown among Chinese travelers, is binding all these large-scale initiatives together to maximize the exposure it will receive to attract more visitors, especially those from China.

Jing Travel spoke to the Valletta 2018 and the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) for more insights.

Tell us more about Valletta 2018

The Valletta 2018 Foundation oversees the cultural program, a collection of over 140 projects and 400 events that will take place throughout 2018 as part of Valletta’s celebrations as the European Capital of Culture. The program consists of various projects from several artistic disciplines such as music, dance, theatre, visual arts, community projects, and more. A number of projects are also designed to evolve and expand beyond the European Capital of Culture year. Among these is the Valletta Design Cluster, situated in a formerly neglected area in the lower part of Valletta, and is being transformed into a hub for community and economic development. Other noteworthy projects include MUŻA – the new museum of Fine Arts and the Strada Stretta Concept – a project that has breathed new life into a well-known area of Valletta that had fallen into disuse. 

Are there any Chinese artists featured as part of Valletta 2018 celebrations?

Yes. In February 2018, the Zhejiang Wu Opera Troupe (浙江婺剧) from Zhejiang Province in China participated for the first time in Malta Carnival 2018. In addition to that, every year, the China Cultural Centre in Malta hosts various events including the “Happy Chinese New Year in Valletta” and this year’s events were designed to be a part of Valletta 2018 activities.

How is Valletta 2018 a part of EU-China Tourism Year?

Both large-scale events will certainly lead to new inspirations and Malta is honored to have this opportunity to deliver a high-quality destination to Chinese tourists, art-lovers, and students. As part of the EU-China Light Bridge Initiative, the iconic St. James Cavalier, a 16th century fortification built by the Order of St John and one of the first buildings to be erected in Valletta, was illuminated in red and golden stars for the Chinese Lantern Festival to build a virtual bridge of light with China.

What are some of the cross-promotion activities? 

To Chinese visitors, we believe digital marketing is the most important method. At the moment, we are cooperating with Shijiebang (世界邦) and Ctrip (携程旅行), to share information with both FIT and group travelers. Information on key activities is also promoted on our website as well as on Chinese social media such as Weibo.

Last January, the Valletta 2018 opening ceremony was live streamed on China Global Television Network, a 24-hour English news channel that has 57 million followers on Facebook. The program also included an interview with Valletta 2018’s Executive Director Ms. Catherine Tabone where she introduced the various celebrations for Valletta 2018 and attractions in this city.

As for B2B, last year, MTA launched a six-month online joint marketing campaign with Ctrip, which helped us gained more exposure on Chinese social media and internet.

We have also advertised EU-China Tourism Year + Valletta 2018 to attract more Chinese trade partners to collaborate with us in promoting Malta to their clients.

Apart from that, we also work with the local Chinese Community Association in Malta so that they too will be our ambassadors by sharing their traveling experiences and beautiful photos of Malta with the goal of inspiring their friends, families, and networks to visit Malta.

What are some of Malta’s efforts in the China market and does Malta have an in-market representation office? Have you recently organized any media and tour operator familiarization trips?

MTA has official accounts on Weibo and WeChat to interact directly with potential visitors as well as a translated website and destination brochures. This year, we will participate in China Outbound Travel and Tourism Market in Beijing and for the first time, we will also be at ITB China in May. Following this, to equip the travel trade to promote Malta to their clients and to create awareness of the destination, we will begin organizing familiarization trips for the travel trade and media so that they can immerse themselves in Malta.

What is the number of Chinese visitors expected in Malta this year?

We have seen a strong increase in the number of visitors over the past few years. In 2016, we welcomed 6,000 Chinese tourists, and for 2018, we aim to welcome 10,000 visitors from China. Last year, 13 new Visa Applications Centers were authorized by the Maltese Embassy in China. The centers are for Chinese citizens and non-Chinese citizens legally residing in China interested in visiting Europe, allowing them to apply for a Schengen visa or residence permit for Malta. The addition of these centers makes Malta and Europe more accessible for those living outside of Beijing and Malta to submit their visa applications.

How do Chinese visitors arrive in Malta?

At the moment, most Chinese visitors arrive by air since there is good air connectivity from most European destinations.

What do Chinese visitors do in Malta and what are the key motivators for including Malta on their itineraries?

Malta is an island located in the Mediterranean, approximately 50 miles from Sicily. It consists of three main islands, Malta, Gozo, and Comino. The country is rich in culture, history, and offers a relaxing island lifestyle. Today, Chinese travelers are changing their travel patterns and beginning to look for experiential travels. For this reason, they are attracted to Malta’s warm, Mediterranean weather, clear seas, and high-quality diving sites. Apart from that, they also enjoy the laidback Maltese lifestyle which is very different to how it is back in China. The feedback we often receive is how relaxed and friendly Maltese are, and combining that with the Maltese cuisine makes Malta a special place to visit.

For tourists who are looking for new European destinations to visit, Malta certainly fits the bill as most first-time travelers to Europe would not have thought of including Malta on their itineraries. For history lovers, the legendary history of the Knights Hospitaller is largely situated around Malta, and the order left a lot of historic architecture in Malta with many buildings now UNESCO World Heritage Sites waiting to be discovered. Travelers are also fascinated by the mysterious story of the Knights.

Not many people know this, but Malta has also been the setting for a number of movies and TV series. Amongst the more popular ones are Gladiator, Captain Philips, the Count of Monte Cristo, Game of Throne, Troy, and more.