Among the honey-coloured buildings of Valetta’s main street in front of the courthouse is a shrine to Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist murdered on the island last October.
Tourists walking through the Unesco World Heritage city this summer might be surprised to stumble upon the shrine—which includes photos and messages—just outside the court buildings.
Many of the tourists stop and take pictures. Others have been helping rebuild it when it is dismantled at night by people who don’t like visitors to see the memorial.
Daphne’s son Paul says: “It’s just candles, and flowers and pieces of paper; somehow it is just really human.”
It is also, he says, a statement about what is going on in Malta; something that the government would rather tourists not know about.
Perhaps it is not surprising that the Maltese government would like anything that affects its beautiful sunny image to be swept away, as travel and tourism receipts make up 15.1 per cent of the GDP, according to the World Economic Forum.
But as Paul and his family struggle to keep his mother’s story in the international limelight, and to fight for transparency around the continuing court case, he is convinced that tourists having awareness of her murder makes a difference.
It places pressure on the Maltese government “to behave like they are meant to behave.”
Some of the tourists want to go further. At an event at the Hay Festival this summer, Paul found members of the audience who went on holiday to the Mediterranean island keen to talk to him about what they could do to make a difference. He urged them to visit the shrine to show awareness of the case.
In Malta, the smallest state within the European Union, international opinion and EU funding are important as is its reputation as a safe and secure travel destination.
In 2017 it was rated in 31st place for this criteria by the WEF, behind Bhutan, Morocco and Qatar.
Other destinations with a glorious reputation as holiday spots include Mexico and Mauritius—but they both score badly for freedom of expression and human rights indicators.
Mexico is ranked at 113 for safety and security in the same index. It saw around a massive 32 million tourist arrivals last year, most of whom are probably blissfully unaware of anything happening outside their resorts.
But Mexico ranks only 6.47 in the Cato Institute Human Freedom Index. 11 journalists were murdered there in connection with their work last year. Other reporters are living under 24-hour government security.
In reality, violence is not confined to areas of the country tourists do not see. Baja California Sur, a popular beach destination, has seen a surge in violence in the past 12 months.
Duncan Tucker, regional media manager for Amnesty International, said: “The government has long worked to keep tourist resorts safe from the violence that has plagued great swathes of Mexico, so as not to jeopardise this lucrative source of GDP.”
“But in the last year or two there has been a notable rise in general levels of violent crime—and specifically in attacks and threats against the press—in and around popular destinations like Cancún and Los Cabos.”
“If tourists were to stop visiting Mexico because of the violence this could lead the government to invest more in security in major resort areas. This could, in theory, help to generate create safer working conditions for journalists.”
“However, this would not necessarily bolster freedom of expression.”
“Mexico’s security forces are also frequently implicated in attacks and threats against the press,” he said.
But trends can change rapidly. Right now, tourist numbers to the USA are drifting down. Its image as a tourist destination is clearly reflecting a significant disapproval rating by significant numbers of international travellers.
German market researcher Gfk told Reuters that bookings from Germany to the United States were down 20 per cent for the 2018 summer season. Figures from the United Nations World Tourism Organisation reported a dip of 4 per cent for international arrivals to the USA in the first nine months of 2017—while other destinations saw a rise.
Justin Francis, chief executive at Responsible Travel, believes that today’s travellers weigh up many factors when making a decision, and look for a positive image on a range of issues; freedom of speech, LGBT issues, race, religion, social justice, inequality and environmental issues.
Tourism can also reward countries that change their ways and improve human rights.
Argentina saw a significant rise in tourist arrivals when it became the first South American country to make gay marriage legal in 2010.
All of which is an argument for thinking that your choice of holiday destination can also be an opportunity to make a statement. If you want to.
Learn more about Responsible Travel here. The full Cato Institute Human Freedom Index is available here.