Carlo Micallef: Breaking Barriers in the Tourism Industry through Data-driven Innovation

Iconic CEOs to Follow in 2023

Carlo Micallef is a seasoned marketer with a track record of success in destination marketing, leisure, and tourism. He is a marketing professional skilled in online and offline marketing campaigns, business negotiation, HR management, development, and market planning. In 1997, Carlo Micallef joined the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA), formerly the National Tourism Organisation of Malta (NTOM). He progressed through MTA’s Marketing Directorate positions.

Throughout the ten-year tourism boom, Carlo held crucial positions within the MTA’s International Marketing Directorate. After being appointed Chief Marketing Officer, he took on initiatives to revamp the MTA’s overseas Marketing, Branding, PR, and Advertising activity. His efforts led to the best years in tourism for Malta and Gozo, with a double-digit increase in tourist arrivals year on year and achieving record growth in income from tourism.

Carlo Micallef’s impressive achievements demonstrate his deep understanding of the tourism industry and his ability to lead innovative strategies that produce outstanding results. In addition, his experience and knowledge in destination marketing and tourism make him one of the most innovative CEOs revamping the industry’s future.

Climbing the Ranks: A 25-year Legacy at the Malta Tourism Authority

The MTA welcomed Micallef over 25 years ago, marking the beginning of a long and prosperous journey for him. Starting from the bottom, Micallef learned, made mistakes, and took on new challenges as he progressed through the organization’s ranks. Together with his colleagues and the stakeholders in Malta, they achieved a sustainable year-round tourism industry for the Maltese Islands. In addition, they set successive year-on-year record tourism performances over the last ten years.

Throughout his career, Micallef experienced various defining moments and valuable experiences. However, if he had to choose one, it would be during the pandemic, which was the world’s darkest years. With drastically reduced budgets and international travel becoming a distant memory and a future dream, the marketing team at MTA worked together to devise innovative online marketing and PR activities. This effort enabled the team to remain engaged with the industry and the general public while building stronger connections with them.

Online brainstorming sessions were unforgettable, with fresh new ideas from different team members daily. By keeping Malta on top of their mind, the fruits of their labor are seen as the recovery of tourism to the Maltese Islands in the past months has been much more robust than forecast and ahead of competitor destinations in the Mediterranean.

The primary objective of MTA is to promote and develop tourism in the Maltese Islands by ensuring the sector’s sustainability and competitiveness. MTA works with stakeholders in the tourism industry, such as hotels, tour operators, and local councils, to improve the visitor experience. Additionally, MTA works with other institutions, such as airlines and foreign tourism boards, to market the Maltese Islands internationally. As the national tourism agency, MTA also provides information on the Maltese Islands, such as events, attractions, and transportation options, to visitors through its website, social media channels, and tourist information centers.

Leveraging Digital Marketing for Greater Precision and Accountability

Malta’s tourism industry has come a long way since its inception in the late 1950s. The authorities sought to diversify the economy in response to the diminishing role of the British military base in Malta, and tourism became a key area of focus. However, heavy reliance on British tourists led to catastrophic consequences during periods of the economic downturn in the UK. Lessons were learned, and Malta’s tourism authorities enacted an expansion and diversification strategy.

Over the years, Malta has diversified its tourism offerings to attract visitors from other European countries and beyond. Product segments such as Meetings, Conferences & Incentives, Diving, Sailing, English Language Learning, Wellness, Faith, Sports, and Heritage tourism have been developed to attract incremental tourism all year round.

Malta’s marketing strategy is geographically planned but segment or niche-driven, with bespoke marketing plans to target different socio-demographic and interest segments and niches in other markets. Marketing efforts are carefully designed to reach the targeted audience through aptly selected media, shunning mass advertising. The rise of digital marketing has revolutionized the marketing process, making it quicker, more precise, and more accountable. Campaign performance is monitored in real-time and swiftly adjusted as needed.

Air connectivity is critical to Malta’s tourism industry, with 99% of visitors arriving by air. In addition, the island is well-connected with flights to tourism source markets around Europe and beyond. Therefore, in parallel with developing the tourism marketing strategy, Malta embarked on a route development program. It first centered around the setting up and growth of the national airline Air Malta and the services of other legacy carriers that fly to the island and has progressed in recent years to include low-cost carriers.

Malta International Airport offers more flight connections to European airports today than London Heathrow. Long-haul flight connections are also excellent, with connecting flights provided through all of Europe’s main hubs, including Madrid, Lisbon, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Rome, Milan, Frankfurt, Munich, Vienna, Zurich, and London, as well as through non-EU airport hubs like Istanbul and Dubai.

In summary, Malta’s tourism industry has grown significantly and diversified over the years, focusing on developing new product segments and improving air connectivity.

Raising the Bar for Tourism Standards: The Journey of Malta Tourism Authority

In August 1997, Micallef joined the National Tourism Organization of Malta, focusing solely on marketing. After that, however, it was deemed necessary to establish a more comprehensive authority to serve as a regulator, promoter, and product developer for the tourism industry in Malta. Consequently, the Malta Tourism Authority was established by the Parliament in 1999, and it has since become a much more significant and far-reaching organization than its predecessor. However, the early years were challenging as the transformation necessitated a paradigm shift in the organization’s culture and stakeholder behavior in the tourism industry. Consequently, MTA introduced stricter controls, increasing accountability and higher standards for all industry stakeholders.

With hindsight, Micallef confidently asserts that MTA has accomplished its mission and currently leads an industry that has witnessed exponential growth, breaking records year after year. As a vibrant catalyst for the Maltese Islands’ economic growth, the tourism industry now accounts for over 15% of the country’s GDP, and the figure increases to over 20% when considering the multiplier effect of tourism activity.

MTA’s success can be attributed to its ability to act as a liaison between the government and the private sector to formulate long-term strategies, develop tourism products, and build air connectivity networks.

Its role also includes the following:

  • the regulation of the industry,
  • enforcement of compliance with standards, and
  • maintenance of a high level of quality in tourism activity.

In conclusion, MTA’s impressive growth and evolution into a prominent authority in the tourism industry has made it a success story with a significant contribution to the Maltese economy.

Understanding the Role of the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA)

The MTA plays a diverse role in the tourism industry, with a primary objective of creating and fostering relationships. It serves as the regulator and motivator for the industry, a business partner, and the country’s brand promoter. It is entrusted to form, maintain and manage meaningful partnerships with all tourism stakeholders, including the private sector partners.

The MTA’s responsibility is not limited to attracting visitors to the Islands; it also helps strengthen the industry’s human resources, ensures the highest standards and quality of the Islands’ tourism product, and fosters relations with local and international media. In addition, the MTA advises the government on tourism operations and issues licenses under the Act. It also contributes to improving the level of human resources in the tourism industry. Finally, it suggests to the government the planning and development of the tourism industry and the infrastructure supporting the initiative.

It is actively involved in promoting and advancing Malta as a tourism destination. It assists and advises on tourism-related issues and undertakes activities, events, and projects to fulfill its role. The MTA’s continuous efforts have contributed significantly to the exponential growth of the tourism industry in Malta, which today accounts for more than 15% of the country’s GDP. As a result, the multiplier effect of tourism activity rises to more than 20%.

Thus, the MTA’s mission is to ensure that the Maltese Islands remain a world-class tourism destination. Its commitment to the tourism industry has enabled it to lead and achieve record results year after year. It has become a vibrant catalyst of economic growth for the Maltese Islands, contributing to the country’s prosperity and reputation as a premier tourism destination.

Malta’s Seafaring Legacy and Adaptability in Tourism

According to Micallef, competition in the tourism industry is viewed as a positive force as it encourages innovation and prevents complacency. Furthermore, Malta’s tourism industry stands out from other Mediterranean destinations due to its year-round accessibility, with over 300 days of sunshine and various visitor activities. Micallef explains that through their research, Malta competes in two different segments: during the winter months, the island attracts MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, and Exhibitions), group, and leisure tourism, while in the summer months, it competes for family and leisure tourism with the Mediterranean’s islands and seaside resorts. This diversity makes Malta an attractive destination for travelers of all ages and interests.

Micallef notes that Malta’s adaptability, perseverance, and innovation are rooted in its history as a seafaring nation. The Phoenicians, master traders from the Eastern Mediterranean region of modern-day Lebanon, chose Malta as their port to trade their goods with the surrounding countries. This legacy is reflected in the Maltese language, which has Semitic origins and is written in Latin script. Malta’s tourism industry is dedicated to honoring this legacy by providing visitors with an exceptional experience that reflects the island’s history, culture, and natural beauty.

How Malta Tourism Authority pave the way for modern tourism?

Malta’s tourism industry has undergone significant changes over the years, as noted by Micallef. In the past, the industry relied heavily on tour operator charter traffic and carriers, and advertising was mainly in Print, Teletext, and Occasional Radio and TV. As a result, tour operator brochures were vital, and hotels had to be included in the brochure to sell.

At the time, Malta’s tourism was highly dependent on British tourists, accounting for up to 60% of the market, with the German market closely behind. As a result, a few tour operators controlled 80% of the business, wielding significant bargaining power over airlines and hotels. However, as the industry evolved, it became apparent that diversification of source markets was necessary to serve the country’s tourism industry better.

In collaboration with the industry, the MTA took the first steps towards diversification by opening up new routes and launching marketing campaigns in new regional markets such as Benelux and Scandinavia, followed by Spain, Russia, and Eastern European countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland. The national airline, Air Malta, played an invaluable role during this time.

Furthermore, the MTA changed its strategy by collaborating with new tour operators who positioned themselves as Malta specialists or offered bespoke packages for the diverse attractions and activities that Malta’s tourism product offered beyond the sun and sea. This approach established the segments and niches of cultural and historical tours, diving, English language learning, MICE, gastronomy, and sports tourism.

Another significant shift came with the advent of the Internet and low-cost airlines, and the MTA embraced online activity immediately by creating its website. Over the years, marketing activities shifted steadily to digital media, allowing the MTA to target defined audiences effectively.

Despite a slower initial response to low-cost airlines, Malta’s tourism industry recorded double-digit growth from 2009 until the pandemic, steadily diversifying its source markets and reaching new audiences. As a result, Malta transformed from a destination for older tourists to one of the most vibrant and eclectic destinations in the Mediterranean, attracting big brands, events, and younger, affluent visitors.

The changes over the years resulted from a clear and courageous strategy by the MTA in partnership with the private sector and with the support of successive governments. The MTA has contributed to the growth and development of the tourism industry in Malta by implementing innovative strategies, embracing new technologies, and adapting to changing market demands.

Defining Success in Leadership and Inspiring Excellence

In any situation, a successful leader can inspire and motivate a group toward a common goal while maintaining their trust and respect. It requires strong communication skills, difficult decisions, and a clear vision for the future. To bring out the best in people, a leader should create a positive work environment that encourages growth and development. It can be achieved by empowering people, delegating tasks, and challenging ideas through constructive feedback and support. A leader should also be a good listener and be bold in accepting ideas that are not theirs while giving credit where it is due.

Ultimately, successful leaders can inspire and motivate their team to achieve their full potential in a positive and supportive work environment. By doing so, a leader helps their team achieve their goals but also helps them grow and develop personally and professionally. Additionally, a successful leader should be mindful of identifying the best potential in their team, which can be groomed to take the reins when the time comes.

Embracing the Next Era of Innovation and Technology in Tourism

In today’s dynamic business environment, there are other options than stagnation. Hence, MTA is adopting a proactive approach toward innovation and technology to maintain its competitive edge. Micallef, a seasoned marketer, is spearheading the development and implementation of several tech initiatives to improve the tourism industry in Malta. Micallef understands the need to stay ahead of the curve in the tourism industry and is determined to lead the charge toward innovation and progress.

The MTA has already taken significant strides toward embracing new technology. For example, they are collaborating with Heritage Malta to develop virtual and augmented reality experiences, providing tourists with a glimpse of Malta’s popular destinations before arriving. These technologies allow tourists to explore destinations virtually, providing them with immersive experiences that are both informative and entertaining. MTA is also investing in mobile apps and websites that offer travelers real-time updates, reservation options, and a wealth of information about activities, accommodations, and events in Malta and Gozo.

MTA is exploring Artificial Intelligence (AI). They plan to use chatbots and virtual assistants to provide 24/7 customer service support. These tools will automate customer service inquiries, freeing staff to focus on more complex tasks. This approach is intended to improve customer service while enhancing the productivity and efficiency of MTA’s operations.

Micallef is confident that innovation and technology can transform the tourism industry by enhancing the traveler experience, promoting sustainability, reducing carbon emissions, and conserving natural resources. He envisions a future where MTA adopts cutting-edge technologies and innovative approaches to stay ahead of the competition.

Reflecting on the Professional Journey & Achievements

Throughout Micallef’s career, he has experienced numerous successes that he attributes to his exceptional teamwork with colleagues who share his mission. However, he believes his most significant achievement thus far was his appointment as CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority in June 2022. Micallef’s nomination was endorsed by all the critical stakeholders in Malta’s tourism industry, and many had approached him to put his name forward when the vacancy arose. He received excellent support, and he continues to do so. He believes this endorsement demonstrates the industry’s confidence in his abilities and vision, indicating that his work at the MTA over the last 25 years has been highly appreciated. Micallef remains committed to doing his best in a job he enjoys as much as his favorite pastime.

A look at Micallef’s daily routine as the CEO of MTA

Micallef sees his role as a cultivator of an environment that maximizes the returns on the resources at his disposal. He believes that creating such an atmosphere requires empowering and coaching people, fostering creativity, ensuring accountability, constant contact with the industry, encouraging enterprise, solving problems with diplomacy, and showing leadership and decisiveness where needed.

Starting the day at 7:00, Micallef spends the first hour checking his emails undisturbed at home before heading to the office at 09:00/09:30. His first calls of the day are typical with the Minister for Tourism, his team, or the MTA overseas network to discuss a range of matters such as upcoming activities, the latest developments, or international news that may affect their efforts.

Upon arrival at the office, Micallef walks through different departments, greeting and talking to different employees. He often checks work in progress; some employees may have matters to discuss. Once in his office, his assistant gives him a pile of urgent papers to sign or review. On average, Micallef schedules five to six meetings daily, some of which may be conducted online. Routine committee meetings and administrative tasks are expected in the morning, while strategic, marketing, and product development meetings are scheduled in the afternoon. He meets the Minister for Tourism and his core team every Monday, but they remain in contact daily. Strategic meetings with the industry and the senior squad at MTA are also held every week, with more frequent sessions during certain times of the year.

If Micallef is not abroad or out of the office for meetings, he often eats lunch with staff in the office canteen and always tries to promptly find time to listen to employees who request an appointment. He typically ends the day at around 19:00, signing off payments and approvals and checking the urgent emails highlighted by his assistant. If he is not engaged with evening events, Micallef is home by 20:00 to have dinner with his family and wind down with a glass of wine while checking the news, social media or reading articles online.

Driving Positive Impact: How MTA’s values shape their vision?

Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) is the national tourism organization for the Maltese islands, and its values and principles are reflected in its mission, vision, and strategy. The team at MTA takes ownership of these values and regulations, which include Sustainability, Authenticity, Quality, Innovation, and Collaboration. These values are not just slogans but a part of the MTA’s culture that guides the team toward achieving new goals and positively impacting the country’s tourism and economic well-being.

The strong bond among the team at MTA is built on these values and principles, and they are the driving force behind the organization’s success. The team is united in its mission to promote Malta as a world-class tourist destination, and the values they uphold serve as a common thread that binds them together in pursuit of this shared vision.

MTA’s Vision for the Future

The Malta Tourism Authority has outlined its roadmap through the Malta Tourism Strategy 2021 – 2030, which focuses on recovering, rethinking, and revitalizing tourism as a critical driver of Malta’s economic activity post-pandemic. This approach emphasizes the opportunity for Malta to reform its tourism industry, ensuring it aligns with international standards of sustainable development and climate change commitments, which have become essential in today’s global environment.

The roadmap’s objective is to elevate the tourism experience in Malta with a commitment to provide quality services and products that cater to the interests of visitors who not only provide a significant economic contribution to the country but also appreciate the unique and diverse offerings of the Maltese Islands.

From Business Graduate to CEO: A Journey of Fulfillment

The MTA has provided a fulfilling career for Micallef, exceeding his expectations since he joined as a Business Management & Marketing graduate. Micallef has had the privilege of representing and promoting the Maltese Islands worldwide, leading a team of exceptional professionals, traveling extensively, meeting interesting people, experiencing diverse cultures, and learning from successes and setbacks.

Micallef aspired to a top marketing position when he started his career. The MTA allowed him to serve as the Chief Marketing Officer for a decade before being appointed CEO. Reflecting on his career, he feels he has accomplished more than he initially envisioned, but he has new goals that inspire him to pursue the objectives with passion.


Micallef has had an illustrious career in the tourism industry, from a young Business Management & Marketing graduate to his current position as CEO of the Malta Tourism Authority. He has played an instrumental role in elevating Malta’s tourism industry, promoting it worldwide, and establishing the country as a world-class tourist destination. He has been recognized for his contributions to the industry with several accolades and awards.

Under Micallef’s leadership, MTA has developed a roadmap to recover, rethink and revitalize tourism post-pandemic while aligning with the international ideals of sustainable development and climate change. His passion and dedication to the tourism industry have been crucial in enhancing Malta’s reputation and economic growth, making him an inspiring leader in the field.