As a very small country, there are some economic areas that you might expect to see in a bigger economy that do not really operate in any meaningful way in Malta. Small countries like Malta need to pick and choose the business sectors that they can reasonably enter so that they can create and capture value.
A great example of this is agriculture. There are farms and farmers in Malta, but the reality is that in such a small and densely populated country, there will never be enough room to create a genuinely successful agricultural sector. Most other European nations will have individual farms that are larger than all of Malta, so there is no way for local operations to really prosper.
Despite that, there are some areas of the Maltese economy that have managed to stake a claim on the global stage. We will look at them below.
Malta’s original business model has been tourism. The country has around three hundred days of sunshine each year, which offers as close to a guarantee of nice weather as European tourists can get. The country also has a substantial amount of history, character and charm to see.
The tourist sector obviously creates jobs in a wide range of sectors, from hospitality jobs in hotels, bars and restaurants, to transportation jobs for bus drivers, taxi drivers and airport staff to many more.
Valletta’s Grand Harbour also receives an average of eight cruise liners – and all of those passengers – throughout every week of the year. This produces a constant flow of new tourists to Valletta that will not stay the night, but will walk around Valletta and see some of it’s sights.
The relatively high numbers of annual visitors, when comparing the small size of Malta, has made almost the entire country an airbnb zone. The most central areas – St Julians, Sliema and Valletta – now seem to have self-hosted apartments everywhere. While this sector may or may not be inside the law, it has certainly been a boost to the economy.
Since joining the European Union, Malta’s economy has been able to open itself to several new business sectors. The sector that has grasped Malta’s advantages most firmly is the igaming sector.
There are now estimated to be more than two hundred companies in Malta in the igaming sector, employing more than ten thousand people, mostly based in a few central areas and mostly employing foreign workers for their language, marketing and technical skills.
The igaming sector has a very real skills shortage, which means that there are lots of people doing jobs that they are not really skilled at, lots of fast career progression, lots of young people in management roles and lots of entrepreneurs. All this makes igaming a fluid market in which it is possible to build a career, earn quite well and have a lot of fun, but it is not a stable environment where people work for one company for a decade. As long as staff are able to accept and embrace change, they will be able to find jobs and build a career in igaming.
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Financial And Corporate Services
As the years since joining the EU have passed, the impact of the financial and corporate services sector in Malta has steadily grown. There is now a shipping registry, an aircraft registry, igaming licenses, low corporate taxes, trusts for asset management, licenses for hedge funds and both residency and citizenship by investment.
The majority of the income this work generates is earned by a relatively small number of law firms and consultancies that are mostly Maltese and include many of the country’s Members of Parliament.
There are jobs in the administration parts of this sector for non-Maltese workers, but most companies are owned and managed by Maltese.
A person only needs to spend a few hours in Malta to see that there is a substantial amount of building underway. More time in Malta reveals new areas and streets with building works. However a person may feel about it, there can be little doubt that an emerging economy needs substantial construction.
When compared to other EU member states, the sales commissions earned in Malta by real estate agents are unusually high. This has attracted many people into the sector in the hope of getting those one or two big commissions per year.
When combined with the fast rising rental market – based in large part on the influx of foreign workers into the igaming sector in St Julians, Sliema and Msida – the real estate sector has been a popular way for many people to earn very good salaries. However, the Maltese real estate sector is clearly booming and how long it can last for is a question debated by everyone on the island.
Emerging Business Sectors: Blockchain and CBD
The Maltese government is trying to find and embrace the next big thing in the global economy. Two possible contenders are the worlds of cryptocurrencies and blockchain technology and the newly emerging CBD space.
At the time of writing, it is unclear whether Malta will be able to become the hub that it wishes to be in either industry, but it will continue to try. Until then, we will all remain speculators, regularly checking the Bitcoin price chart hoping to make a profit.
Legislation was passed in 2017 to make it possible to license a blockchain business in Malta. The sector has not flourished in the way that was hoped, but there are exchanges and ICOs that are now based permanently in Malta. Therefore, there are some blockchain jobs in Malta, they are currently very specialised and there are relatively few of them.
The cannabis and CBD sector is something that the Maltese government is trying to welcome, but it is not yet clear how that might work. A first step was legalising CBD for patients. Further steps will require legalising the growing of plants for either or both of medical research and commercial sale. Additionally, legalising CBD use for recreational and non-medical uses will also be required. In late 2019, these are early days for CBD in Malta and there may, or may not be a new sector with all the associated jobs and economic benefits to come from that.