Not a record. The record. | Clayton Bartolo


Malta's tourism achieves record-breaking numbers in 2023, highlighting successful diversification efforts and the importance of sustainability for continued growth

As always, facts first. 2023 has been the best year ever in Malta’s tourism history. It was the best in terms of numbers, even exceeding the mythical 3,000,000 mark. The figure means that we registered an increase of 9% over 2019 which was a record year, until the pandemic put the world on pause.

Air connectivity responded accordingly. Initial indications are that this year we will register the best connectivity programme ever recorded by the Malta International Airport. Better than in 2019.

2023 also set an all-time record in terms of guest nights - over 20 million, again a 5% increase on 2019.

Very significantly, we hit a historic record in terms euro spend. Tourists left €2.7 billion in our economy, 20% more than in 2019.

There is yet another illuminating comparison. Taking the long view, the increase in arrivals literally took decades before they hit the 2019 record. By contrast, after the pandemic forced us back to ground zero, it took us less than three years to break that record, a year earlier than planned in fact.

Putting these achievements in a continental context, Malta is now one of the best performing destinations in Europe. Regionally, we have also outperformed the growth rate in Southern Mediterranean Europe. Even the United Nations World Tourism Organisation rated Malta as the best performing Mediterranean destination in 2023.

Beyond arrivals, guest nights and spend, the numbers tell another, equally positive story. In 1981, 80% of our tourists came from the UK. By contrast, in 2023 the largest source market clocked in at less than 20% of total arrivals. In parallel, we also managed to widen our demographic footprint as well as our seasonal spread. Encouragingly, between 2022-2023 the number of first-time tourists increased by 34%.

Clearly, our strategy to diversify is working. Not putting all our eggs in one basket is certainly the best protection against dips in this or that source market in these volatile times.

Now let me be blunt. We shall continue to sit on chairs, not laurels. We recognize that, more than ever geopolitical scenarios, shifting markets, technology and communications are changing the goal posts at lightning speed. If this is the year of absolute record figures in Malta, we are certainly not going to forget that rapid and unprecedented change is the new normal. Consequently, tourism has to be a journey, not a destination.

Our anchoring aim remains unchanged – to attract more upmarket tourism. Choosing this aim is the easy bit. After all it has been embraced for decades by different administrations. The hard bit is to achieve it, with intense competition raging around us.

Our strategy consists of a range of mutually drivers, thereby making their sum stronger and better than the parts.

We will continue to strengthen our hospitality offer, improve public cleansing, train and license staff. While we entrench even deeper our position in primary source markets and we are determined to continue pushing the diversification envelope. Our focus on business travel, sports, diving, activity holidays, religious tourism, wellness, gastronomy, education and more should be sharper than ever before.

More ambitiously, our journey will include targeting long-haul markets in earnest. Work on the US, Japan, Australia and the Gulf states is already underway. Success on these fronts will, in turn, strengthen our hand in negotiation over better connectivity with these markets.

Our industry’s operations need to integrate more sustainability. Climate change, pollution, plastics, feeding the global population, structural inequalities are all tangible realities threatening the current strength of our tourism. Sustainability is the only road to steer our interconnected planet, its natural diversity and all those living in it to a more prosperous and safer future. A well-planned tourism industry can strongly contribute to this.

Finally, there is our historical, cultural, physical and natural heritage which shapes who we are and what we are. We need them for us as much as for our visitors.

The journey continues. Let’s keep writing history together.

Clayton Bartolo is the Minister for Tourism and Public Cleanlines