The story
It was way back in 1967, when a group of Travel Agents got together to set out to form ATA – Association of Travel Agents – Malta. Orginally teh Assocation had two sections which later became four, representing foue different sections of the Travel & Toruism industry at that time, namely
  • IATA Agents Section
  • Non-IATA Agents Section
  • Handling Agents Section and
  • G.S.A. Section.



The same sections were upgraded to Associations in their own right who in turn federated into FATTA in March 1996.

This allowed strength in unity and at the same time gives a measure of autonomy to each Association.

The story of the Association of Travel Agents in Malta A.T.A.-M; as written by Terence Mirabelli (Editor) in the book “25 Years on but who’s counting?”

(Only a few copies of this historic reference book are still available. If you wish to order a copy, please contact the Secretariat.)

This is an outline of the book.

It would be fair to say that the powers-that-be in Malta began to lay the foundations of, what we now call, our tourism industry, back in the mid-1960s. There are a number of very good reasons why the timing is significant, but the most compelling influences were the prevailing economic climate in the Maltese islands, and that more and more people in northern Europe were beginning to take their holidays abroad.

To examine the first point a little closer, for more than one hundred and sixty years the Maltese economy had been sustained by the presence of a large number of British troops and their dependents. This comprised the British garrison, which remained in Malta throughout colonial rule and for some years afterwards.

However, once Malta obtained independence from the United Kingdom in 1964, it was only a matter of time before this staple source of national income would cease altogether. This is not the place for a detailed examination of the change-over process, which spurred the Maltese economy to develop other means of generating and sustaining growth. In retrospect, however, the protective umbrella provided by the United Kingdom (both in the economic and in the military sense) probably held back the development of industries and services not directly related to the British presence on the islands.

Conversely, it would be inaccurate to blame the low level of outgoing tourism at the time on the British ‘umbrella’. Other factors, some economic, others due more to tradition and habit, were responsible. When the first group of pioneering travel agents got together to form the Malta Association of Travel Agents back in 1967, few Maltese travelled abroad. Only the wealthy, business-men and patients needing medical care abroad took holidays or travelled over-seas.

Foreign travel was well beyond the means of the average wage earner. Certainly at this time there existed few possibilities for boosting one’s income with a part-time job. Disposable income was simply not available for most people to spend on foreign travel. Also, the only paid holidays that most Maltese received were the public holidays. So, anyone wishing to take an extended vacation had to be able to do so on unpaid leave.

Thus for most people in Malta their idea of a holiday ‘abroad’ was a day trip to Gozo or Comino. Similarly, with mass incoming tourism Until the late 1960s the Maltese islands were not even on the map. In fact, any revenue from tourism was linked to the British services. Tourist figures received a seasonal boost from visiting children, relatives and friends of service families. There is no question that, during this period, even a slight increase in arrivals would have posed economic problems, as Malta was simply not geared to cope with the influx. There were few hotels of any sort until the mid- to late-1960s. Even fewer beach facilities, water sports centres, cafes or restaurants. There was also little night life. In fact, there prevailed at the time a distinct lack of inclination to present Malta as a tourist playground. In the late 1950s and early 1960s other resorts in the Mediterranean were already becoming established as major tourist centres. The Costa Brava, the Costa del Sol, Majorca, the Algarve and, of course, the French and Italian rivieras. It is surely no accident that the development of these areas went hand-in-hand with an increase in spending power and leisure time among the inhabitants of northern Europe. Ordinary folk from Germany, Britain and Scandinavia, eager for a couple of weeks in a resort providing sun and fun and at a price they were able to afford, travelled to the Spanish costas.

Apart from the fact that we in Malta were uncharacteristically slow to see the bandwagon, let alone jump on it, we were not helped by the popular conception of the islands in the minds of the majority of potential tourists. As far as they were concerned, Malta was a fortress, rather grim and forbidding – Churchill’s unsinkable aircraft carrier. In short, they would be as likely to choose Malta for a holiday as they would, say, Devil’s Island. So, not only did the majority of Mediterranean resorts have a head start on us, we also had to build a complete tourism infrastructure, almost from scratch. We had to create a new image of the islands to dispel the popularly held misconception of a fortified piece of rock, which just happens to be in the middle of the Mediterranean.

Undoubtedly the major selling points were and are our climate, our history and our culture. Guaranteed sunshine for at least five months of the year is a very big plus in our favour, and one to be exploited to the full. As far as history is concerned, few countries anywhere in the world can boast a civilisation as rich and colourful as that which has evolved during the course of six thousand years or so.

It is to the credit of the governments of the time, the Malta Government Tourist Board and later teh National Tourism Organisation of Malta (NTOM) (now the Malta Tourism Authority) and, of course, the Association of Travel Agents that Malta is to-day one of the major players in European and, indeed, world tourism.

Today incoming tourism accounts for seventy per cent of travel agents’ business. But let us not forget that the remaining thirty per cent, which represents outgoing tourism, is also a tremendous advance. More and more Maltese and Gozitans travel abroad than ever before. The two essential factors that triggered the increase of incoming tourism – spending power and more leisure time – have enabled us to travel more often and further afield. Thus incoming ad out-going tourism is enjoying an unprecedented boom. In the following pages we shall be looking back over the past twenty-five years since the Association of Travel Agents – Malta, was founded as the Malta Association of Travel Agents. We will find that the progress registered by the association during this period, almost exactly mirrors the development of the tourism industry in the Maltese islands.

Further to the Introduction in the book “25 Years on, but who’s counting”?

A Message sent by the late Hon. Dr. Michael Refalo former Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism at the time the Association was celebrating the

25th Anniversary of ATA read as follows:

Message given by the late- Hon. Dr Michael Refalo – former Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism at that time

The Association of Travel Agents has most praise worthily taken upon itself the task of compiling and publishing a record of its history from its foundation to the present day – a span covering twenty-five years. This record highlights the activities, vicissitudes, achievements as well as the problems that ATA has undertaken and had to cope with over this period. It provides the reader with a year to year catalogue which evokes memories and traces the evolution and development of ATA to what it is and stands for today. I cannot but not applaud ATA’s initiative and trust that other tourism sector associations and groupings will also actively consider delving into their archives and recording their own story for their members and for posterity.

I have personally known ATA since its foundation as I had then acted as legal adviser to the constituent assembly, and I find its most gratifying that the associations has since become one of the industry’s leaders. ATA speaks for and is a mentor to its members as the association represents travel agents’ interests on all national boards in the tourism sector.

I extend my most sincere congratulations to ATA’s Council and all the association’s members for a job well done. Furthermore to the above is a foreword from the President of The Association of Travel Agents – Malta (ATA-M)

(2006 update – After having served for many years as Minister for Tourism, the late,  Dr Michael Refalo later served as the Maltese High Commissioner to the UK until he retired).



Message by the former President of ATA – Mr. Joseph Borg Olivier,

President’s foreword on the occasion of the 25th Anniversary of ATA-Malta
Joseph Borg Olivier

The Association of Travel Agents – Malta owes its existence to the pioneers who made ATA happen and gave it substance, and to all the hardworking individuals without whose constant commitment the association would not have survived.

The story told in the book published ends in 1992, a slightly longer period than twenty-five years. Since 1992 was the year ATA celebrated its silver jubilee – a year of celebrations and activities – it was deemed fit to include this ‘extra’, year in the book. Although the book is merely a chronological record of events, it is neither a dull nor a dismal story unlikely to arouse and maintain interest. The story has no end, it offers a general account of affairs and problems – some of which still await solution.

For the reader with a voracious appetite for information on how the Maltese tourism industry, both incoming and outgoing, has grown over the years, this book will definitely satisfy such yearnings. At the end the reader will want to keep the book for future reference.

This book will, I am sure, find a place not only on local bookshelves but in all the corners of the globe; in repositories such as universities institutions, colleges, schools, homes, government departments and other private enterprises that inter-relate with the tourism industry – the industry that grows and flourishes with peace, stability and freedom of movement; the industry that brings people together, the industry that gives hope to the future of the civilised world.

Mr Borg Olivier also served as President for F.A.T.T.A from 1996 onwards. At that time it known as Federation of Travel and Tourism Agents.

Mr. Borg Olivier retired from his post as President in 2005 after 23 years of service he dedicated to the Association and the development of the Travel & Tourism industry in Malta. He is now the Honorary President of FATTA)


This is its story as it goes on…