When official statistics released this year showed that more than 440,000 visitors travelled to Malta in the usually quiet shoulder season of January-March, it vindicated tourism bosses’ confidence in a comprehensive recovery plan centred on better inter-national connectivity and greater product diversification.
That impressive total — which included around 70,000 cruise passengers whose liners had entered the famously breathtaking Grand Harbour (Port of Valletta) — was one of the strongest first quarter performances on record. Such numbers also highlight the growing strength and reach of the “VisitMalta” brand, which has been heavily promoted via traditional media channels as well as digital marketing campaigns on leading social media sites. According to Clayton Bartolo, Minister for Tourism and Consumer Protection, Malta’s tourism recovery plan and a focus on niche tourism segments, such as diving, sports and yachting, are crucial reasons for the wave of tourism arrivals.
“We took the opportunity to start investing more in niches,” he confirms. “We didn’t want to go back to just the numbers. If we wanted to simply attract more tourists, that would have been a very easy decision, but we made a conscious decision to ensure that we get a higher quality tourist and to start beating seasonality.
“That was why we enrolled in a 10-year strategy with three pillars: recover, rethink and revitalise. The first thing was to recover the tourism sector and we are posting excellent results, whereby it’s clear that our tourism sector has fully recovered, and in the first six months of this year we even surpassed the record visitor numbers of 2019.”
Bartolo notes that in the first six months of 2023, both the number of tourists and the number of nights spent increased in the single digit percentage figures versus 2019, while tourist spend has increased by almost a fifth compared to four years ago.
Impressive revenue growth In the first six months of this year, foreign tourist arrivals generated more than €1 billion, a sum which is expected to be beaten during the second half, Bartolo adds, acknowledging not all are delighted. “Some locals may see tour-ism as a strain as it means more people visit the island,” he says, “but when we put all these things together, it’s a highly beneficial tourism segment that is leading to the generation of more wealth in our economy and more opportunities, both in terms of investment as well as in terms of employment.
“Yes, we are investing more in the tourism industry, but the industry itself is rewarding our country with more benefits.”
Pandemic support rewarded Small businesses are the back-bone of the Maltese economy and a crucial part of innovating the tourism industry. SMEs active in sector include restaurants and accommodation providers, many of whom would have gone to the wall during the pandemic, had the government not provided a package of financial lifelines that included generous wage supplements for workers.
“We saved more than 100,000 jobs, most of which were in the tourism industry,” Bartolo explains when asked to expand on the support offered to SMEs when international borders were closed. “The government continues to offer very good tax incentives as well as grants so that people and companies can continue investing. The bulk of these incentives are aimed specifically toward SMEs because our aim, ultimate-ly, is to ensure they continue to prosper, invest in our local economy and employ more people. “Returning to our strategy and the three pillars, recovery is done. The next step is the rethinking aspect and this is where the SMEs come in. We want to ensure higher capability and better sustain-ability in the future.
“It all forms part of our social plan to ensure everybody is actually well off and will reflect on improvements in our society,” he concludes.
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