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Up until the end of the 18 th century there was little commercial activity on Malta other than agriculture and fishing. The island produced some cotton and tobacco aside from food for subsistence but other than that and dockyard industries around Valletta, there was not much else contributing to the island’s economy.
As the 19th century progressed the country prospered and it received a major boost in 1869 when the Suez Canal was opened. Suddenly there was a big increase in shipping traffic calling at the deepwater port in the capital. The hike was so great in fact that between 1871 and 1881, around 8,000 additional workers were employed to work on the Malta docks and the added business activity led to a number of banks opening on the island.
The boom times did not last for long though and by the end of the 19th century, the economy was struggling and in decline. It continued to the advent of the Second World War Malta as a country was in financial crisis. Large oil fired ships were being built and used for the majority of shipping runs. They had a much bigger range and so did not need to call and refuel in the Grand Harbour. Malta’s strategic position between Europe and Africa had become obsolete.
But the island was saved by the advent of better, more effective and more frequent air travel. Tourism became the island’s new lifeblood. An infrastructure to cope with the amount of visitors had to be created swiftly and there is still plenty of work and new developments being built to support the tourism trade. All that work has resulted in scores of excellent hotels, facilities and attractions and has created countless jobs. Tourism has become Malta’s prime industry – responsible for almost 40 per cent of the GNP.
There are more than a million visitors to the island now each year – half of them arriving on cruise ships and that’s nearly three times the entire population of the islands.
With tourism came new and ongoing industrial policies supporting foreign investment. Today Malta is an important player on the internet scene with tax breaks encouraging many big players, particularly in the online gambling market, to base themselves on Malta. There are also a substantial number of private schools that specialise in Teaching Engish as a Foreign Language (TEFL) courses.
In terms of natural resources, the main ones available are limestone and a very productive labour force to go with what is still an excellent strategic location between Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Film production has become a regular added sideline with several big-budget foreign films choosing to use Malta as a set and take advantage of the fine weather. There’s also a large saltwater infinity pool on the east coast too which is often used for nautical scenes. Productions shot here include Gladiator, Troy, The Count of Monte Cristo, The Devil’s Double, World War Z and many foreign TV shows. Even the long-running UK soap Coronation Street shot scenes over here as well as well as international adverts.
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