Bolstering tourism in Malta: the angel is in the details too!

Tourism minister Clayton Bartolo says Malta will bolster its connectivity through the marketing efforts of the MTA in primary and secondary source markets and invest in the regeneration of tourism hotspots

Last year was a weathervane for our tourism industry, a pillar of our economy. It was the live test of the speed, nature and direction of our post-pandemic recovery. Crucially, it also gave us a glimpse of the shape of the sector’s future. 

With 2022 behind us and 2023 in its infancy, this is a good time to take a fact-based look at how we did and how we’re likely to be doing in the future. 

Starting with a bird’s eye view, how do last year’s figures compare with the pre-pandemic ones? In 2022, we welcomed 2.2 million tourists, amounting to 82% of those in 2019. This steep recovery acquires even sharper significance given that in the first four months of 2022 the world was still under the threatening pall of Omicron. 

As always, Malta continued to compete with its Mediterranean destination competitors with one hand tied behind our back. Unlike them, air connectivity is the only way tourists can come to us. And yet we managed to perform much better than expected. 

Zooming in, the picture becomes even more positive. Guest nights quickly returned to 85% of the 2019 figures and the average length of stay was actually higher. Seeding more optimism, last year’s tourists left more of their money in our country. This suggests that we are beginning to attract more of the sort of traveller we have been actively targeting. 

The state of play of our tourism sector is also gauged by the way the pandemic might have changed the size and pattern of our footprint in world markets. Concretely, in the minds of potential tourists, has the pandemic altered Malta’s attractiveness, for better or for worse? 

Even here, the news is pretty good. Last year, the performance of the Polish, Italian, French and Austrian markets surpassed 2019 levels. The Dutch and Hungarian ones are almost at par and the Swiss, America, German and Belgian reached around 80% of 2019 levels. Confirming the quality and solidity of our destination offer is the fact that the pandemic did not much alter the relative percentages of those visiting us for pleasure compared to business. 

In sum, the numbers tell a single, irrefutable story. They reflect promotion and marketing efforts to broaden the capacity to tap into a wider spectrum of source markets. 

Having said this, our performance in the UK, Irish and Scandinavian markets only hit below 70% of the pre-pandemic benchmark. The plus side, however, is that we know what the key contributing factor is - lack of air connectivity to counterbalance our geographic handicap. On this front we are doing all we can to sort this challenge out. The strategy seems to be working. This winter we already secured 90% of the air connectivity which was in place in 2019. 

I should also add that it was a pleasure to hear that the Malta International Airport has embarked on a €175 million investment programme to increase air traffic. This should help. A lot. 

In sum the facts speak for themselves. As it were, our tourism industry had received the best possible financial vaccine against the covid-virus. And the recovery results prove it. 

Now to the future. Again, I shall continue to rest on them rather than our laurels. Sound and reliable forecasting is telling us that the volume of inbound tourists this year will hit the 2.4 million mark. We will continue improving. 

To ensure this result we will continue to bolster connectivity, sustain MTA’s marketing efforts in primary and secondary source markets and invest in the regeneration of tourism hot spots. 

As a ministry, along with the private and public stakeholders, we are fully committed to these goals. So that when we look at the details in the years to come we will continue to find angels.

Clayton Bartolo is Minister for Tourism