Malta is an enigma in many ways, from its empire resisting past to its long economic stability. What makes this miniature island nation tick is a bit of a mystery, even to foreigners who have lived here for many years. With no natural resources to speak of, except for the beautiful, pliable limestone it is built upon, Malta’s success economically and in trade is out of proportion to its geographic and demographic size. The Maltese seem to have a tenacity that lets them always look forward with optimism.
In the past, Malta was known abroad as a tourist destination offering quintessential Mediterranean sun, sea, history, and charm, not to mention the friendliness of its people. This small island nation has always been more complex than this and in recent decades the country’s economy has diversified into a myriad of industries all competing for the best skills and education that the Maltese have to offer, so while other southern European economies were reeling from the global downturn a decade past, this diversity allowed Malta to not only weather the financial and economic storm, but to flourish and grow thereafter. Today, businesses and individuals are lining up to share in Malta’s success.
The following is a brief overview some of the main industries driving the Maltese economy.
Pharmaceuticals and Healthcare
The pharmaceutical sector has been a great success story for the Maltese economy, having attracted a great deal of foreign investment in the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and medical devices, the production of software for the healthcare industry as well as a growing health tourism sector.
Malta’s illustrious medical history began with the Knights Hospitallers from the 16th through to the 18th Century and continued through the British rule in order to ensure good health for one of the vital military installations of the empire which was well evidenced during the First World War when it earned the reputation as the “nurse of the Mediterranean”.
This historical experience has provided Malta with a solid base of healthcare that has continued to evolve into the modern era. In fact, today Malta ranks 5th globally for its overall healthcare performance. Quite a boast for such a small country. Maltese medical staff are well trained professionals who are in high demand throughout Europe and the rest of the world. Malta is also quickly becoming a centre for medical research with the establishment of a life sciences centre close to the main public hospital.
Malta boasts of a long history in the health care industry, dating back to the hospital built in 1574 by the Knights Hospitaller of St John, which was considered as one of the most advanced hospitals of its time within Europe. Indeed, this tradition was carried forward during the period of British rule based on the need to ensure the good health of a vital military installation for the empire. Malta’s dedication to this sector has been constant, resulting in Malta being dubbed as having one of the best medical services within Europe, ranking 5th globally for its overall health sector performance. A World Health Organization (WHO) survey ranked Malta 5th in the world for its standard of medical care.
Malta’s location near to the geographic centre of the Mediterranean and its maritime history has conditioned generations of its inhabitants to have a flair for mastering foreign languages.
The island nation is constitutionally bilingual, with both Maltese and English being spoken by most of its citizens to differing degrees of competencies. However, in truth, the majority of the Maltese are trilingual, speaking Italian in addition to the previously mentioned everyday use languages. Further, it is not uncommon to find Maltese citizens who speak four or even five languages.
There is no wonder then that Malta has firmly established itself as a leading language education centre. English is the leading language taught to foreigners visiting Malta. The teaching of English as a foreign language (EFL) has grown steadily over the past three decades, with student numbers now approaching one hundred thousand and around a quarter of a million weeks of lessons per year. English isn’t the only language taught in Malta to foreigners; French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian and Arabic are all taught through recognised educational institutions.
Malta has established itself as one of the world’s largest and most respected online gaming jurisdictions and was the first EU member state to regulate remote gaming. Online gambling now accounts for around 11% of Malta’s GDP. Malta has attracted many foreign companies through its low tax rates and has consequently become a hub for the thriving European online gambling industry, which includes online sports betting, web-based casinos, poker and other games. Industry data shows that of the $38 billion of revenues generated worldwide in the sector in 2015, Europe alone accounted for 48 percent. Malta has awarded around 500 online gaming licenses, the highest number in Europe.
The first online betting site in Malta was launched in the year 2000 to regulate offshore betting offices. In April 2004 Malta became the first EU member state to regulate remote gaming and in 2007 Malta made the United Kingdom’s whitelist of countries that match its stringent gaming regulations. Online gambling companies are springing up like mushrooms all over Malta. This has lead to an increase in the demand for office space in the Sliema and St.Julian’s area.
Movie making in Malta is well established with early Hollywood blockbusters being made here such as James Bond and the Clash of the Titans, but in recent years the number of major films being filmed on location in Malta has skyrocketed. Malta’s abundance of authentic ancient and medieval landscapes lends themselves well to many a historical drama blockbuster such as Gladiator (2000), Troy (2004), and The Count of Monte Cristo (2002). More recent films that have been shot in Malta include World War Z (2013), Captain Phillip’s (2013), Assassin’s Creed (2016), and Murder on the Orient Express (2017).
The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index stated that out of 142 countries Malta ranks in the top quartile, 3rd with regards to internet bandwidth per user, 16th in the soundness of the banks, 20th in the strength of the auditing/reporting standards, 19th in the quality of the education system and 22nd in the regulation of securities exchanges. These are excellent achievements which Malta should be proud off and are the hallmarks of what attracts foreign direct investment to Malta (FDI).
Information and Communication Technology
Malta’s diminutive size has not limited in any way the nation’s remarkable success within the ICT industry. Malta has strong infrastructure and excellent links to the rest of the world.
Malta provides a wide of services within the sector including software development and online technical support services for a global client base. The country’s educational institutions have kept pace with the growing demands of the ICT industry, producing qualified personnel to fill vacancies in this steadily expanding sector.
While tourism has declined in its overall importance to the Maltese economy, it still is the leading industry in terms of revenues generated and the number of people employed. The industry itself has been diversifying away from the primarily package holiday destination it was in the 1980s and 1990s. Specialised, incentive travel and conferences have become more prevalent over the past 20 years.
The country was the fortunate beneficiary of two concurrent circumstances back in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. The first was Malta’s independence in 1964 and becoming a republic in 1974 which saw a mass exodus of British citizens from the Islands. This brought property prices down and the Maltese eagerly bought it (villas and all) for a song. The second circumstance was the burgeoning of the mass tourism market brought about by, amongst other things, the improvement in jet airliners and the falling costs of travel.
The two concurrent circumstances were undoubtedly fortuitous for the Maltese who eagerly bought property and then used it to rent them to tourists who were often returning British expats who loved Malta for its culture and way of life and of course, the sun, sea and sand and the ease of communication that Malta offers. The Maltese made a killing in this and property prices have increase exponentially since bringing windfall profits to many Maltese who then reinvested this money into many commercial activities aimed at the tourist.