Malta still has no bilateral agreements on COVID-19 vaccination certificates

Tourism Minister confirms Malta has no bilateral agreements on COVID-19 vaccination certificates, talks still underway

Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo
Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo

Malta is still in talks with a number of countries on mutual recognition of national COVID vaccine certificates, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo told BusinessToday.

Malta officially re-opened its doors to tourism on Tuesday, with plans to launch marketing campaigns to attract tourists over summer.

But the country’s failure thus far to officially recognise other countries’ COVID vaccine certificates could see potential tourists bypassing Malta in favour of other destinations.

On Monday, Malta launched its own COVID-19 vaccine certificate, making it easier for Maltese residents to travel abroad and return with less hassle.

In Malta, people who receive their second dose of the vaccine will be able to register online but the certificate will only be issued after 14 days have lapsed from the date of the second dose.

Seven other EU member states have already embraced the EU’s technical system responsible for the verification of the security features contained in the QR codes of all EU Digital COVID certificates.

Bulgaria, Czechia, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Croatia and Poland have connected to the gateway and started issuing COVID-19 travel certificates to their residents at the end of May.

But Malta’s delay in recognising other countries’ certificates could see tourists choosing other destinations that would make their arrival and stay simpler, devoid of any testing or stringent controls on people who have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Bartolo confirmed that talks with other contries were still underway in a bid to reach bilateral agreements that would see both countries recognise each other’s vaccination certificates.

Those talks were being led by the foreign ministry, Bartolo said.

“But even without the agreements, I am informed that tourist operators in Malta are cautiously optimistic about the coming months,” he said.

“Everyone acknowledges that we must all remain cautious and responsible, even after re-opening our doors to tourists.’

Bartolo said that the operators, like the authorities themselves, were looking forward to a gradual and sustainable increase in tourist numbers over the coming weeks and months.

As a country, he warned, Malta could definitely not afford to lose control of the pandemic and risk having to reintroduce restrictions after working so diligently to roll out its vaccination programme.

“This is not a numbers game and we want to ensure that it never will be again,” Bartolo said.

“It is obvious that as a country we need to rethink our tourism product and offering and we will be focusing on finding a sustainable balance between quality and quantity.”

Bartolo insisted quality should become Malta’s new standard in the tourism sector.

He said that was also the focus of the Malta tourism strategy launched for consultation with industry stakeholders in January.

The 10-year strategy will be based on three fundamental pillars: Recover, Rethink and Revitalise.

UK travel green list

As to Malta’s chances of being included in the UK’s travel green list when this is updated today or tomorrow, Bartolo would not hazard a prediction.

“What I can tell you is that even before the UK first published its list some three weeks ago, we have been working hard with the foreign ministry and the health ministry, as well as others, to promote Malta as a safe and attractive destination,” he said.

He said that, irrespective of whether Malta makes it into the UK’s green list, it was apparent that Malta needed to reassess and diversify its tourist base.

“The UK is an important source of tourism but it is not the only one,” Bartolo said.

“We are now focusing strongly not only on other traditionally strong markets - like Germany, France, Spain and Italy - but also on emerging strong markets like Holland which is growing exponentially.”