Malta tourism is booming. Hotels are full; so much so that some tourists have had to be sent to Gozo – and the odd one even as far as Sicily! Yes, the figures show that 2007 is turning out to be the best year for tourism in Malta in at least the last six years, with increases not only in terms of arrivals, but also in hotel rates and occupancies. National Statistics Office figures for September showed that arrivals were 17.8 per cent up on last year.
"Until then, the problem was how to fill rooms; but now, it's a question of sorting out overbookings," laughs the President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, Josef Formosa Gauci. Indeed, he could think of worse problems.
Year on year, the first nine months of 2007 have seen an overall increase of 7.6 per cent in tourists visiting Malta, with August being one of the best months in the history of its tourism. Figures are constantly being churned out and they keep on looking good.
Indeed, the best is not over yet positive results have flown on up to the end of October, with Malta International Airport figures for that month showing a 16 per cent increase in passenger movements over the same period last year, while figures for November are also showing increases. The rest of the winter is envisaging a good rise in seat capacity- in excess of 10 per cent – partly resulting from new low-cost routes offering cheap flights to Malta, including Ryanair, German Wings, Clickair, which stopped its operation in October and is scheduled to start again in April, a Norwegian airline from April and the possibility of another from Madrid. Increases over the normally quieter shoulder months are, therefore, also being expected.
Needless to say, Mr Formosa Gauci is "very satisfied with the turnaround we have seen although he ins on the" need to keep our feet on the ground ", encouraging all players in the industry to continue to work together to face challenges ahead.
Tourism is, after all, a highly dynamic industry and things change constantly. Of course, it would be impossible to continue seeing the same rate of growth as Malta has its limits. But the country would certainly not be holding back on working to maintain the levels achieved and aiming for growth in the shoulder and winter months.
The state of the product is also a critical aspect of the industry and the MHRA acknowledges that quite a bit has been done on that front too. "But it is an area where it is never enough" says Mr. Formosa Gauci – and it is probably this attitude that contributes to improvement.
The Association welcomes the fact that EU funding is now going to be used to continue to upgrade the product, and be poured into, for example, better beach facilities and the restoration of Maha's magnificent bastions.
The government's budget for 2008 has allocated an extra EUR11.6 million to improve the tourism product. It voted a record sum of EUR39.1 million to the industry, with EUR24.5 million going to the Malta Tourism Authority to continue its work.
But Tourism and Culture Minister Francis Zammit Dimech attributes the success achieved in 2007 to the proactive cooperation of the government, the MTA and the stakeholders.
While expressing his satisfaction with the results, he says he knows only too well that "now we should and will go for further growth and work together in that direction to achieve as much in 2008 and beyond.
"On our part, we took three conscious decisions and are reaping the positive results: the introduction of low-cost carriers in a big way, while keeping in mind the interests of nationality carriers, including Air Malta, and tour operators; increased investment to market Malta more effectively overseas; and the organization of a wide array of cultural and entertainment events that render Malta a unique experience for the Maltese and tourists alike. "
And the national airline is doing its part too. Air Malta is focusing on its marketing campaigns and aggressively promoting value-for-money travel opportunities, running successful campaigns in the core European markets, where it is offering the island as the best short-break alternative, said its General Manager, Marketing & Product , Brian Bartolo.
In the UK, it has just launched Malta the Break Escape, which has been running since the last week of October and is presenting an unbeatable travel opportunity to incoming UK tourists. In France Italy, Germany and Benelux, Air Malta's recent advertising campaigns have responded in a market increase inbound travel bookings to Malta in the previously quiet November and December periods, Mr Bartolo notes.
Air Malta is an active network airline, seeking code-share agreements with global carriers – a key investment in connectivity by the Maltese national airline. The latest addition to the list of code shares was Air One, with whatever Air Malta code shares on Rome Fiumicino, meaning its market reach now covers every Italian domestic airport.
The successful code-share agreement signed with Lufthansa in November 2006 allows both carriers to offer two daily non-stop flights to Frankfurt and a daily flight to Munich, with connectivity to every German regional airport, as well as offline European, American and Asian.
The move has generated substantial new traffic into Malta, with a positive direct impact on the tourism industry. The code-share agreement, which was initially solely operative on the direct Malta-Frankfurt and Malta-Munich routes is now covering every German regional route, Mr Bartolo says, adding that, recently, the code-share agreement has also been extended to the Scandinavian cities of Oslo and Stockholm. Throughout the code-share agreement with Lufthansa, there are non-stop daily services from Malta to Washington Dulles International Airport, via Munich.
These developments are increasingly increasing the accessibility to the Malteseislands from major European and international gateways.