After shedding its image as a sun-and-sea destination, Malta’s tourism industry has undergone a stunning transformation. And the Mediterranean travel destination hasn’t looked back since. Last year, Malta received 1.6 million visitors, more than ever before in its history, and setting the fourth record in the past five years. Based on a bold strategy of diversification, Malta has focused on offering a broader range of tourism products, including cultural tourism, English-language training, and conference and incentive travel. A significant expansion of flight connections, efforts to develop Malta as a city-break destination and investment in year-round leisure facilities complement this strategy and underpin Malta’s position as one of Europe’s top performers in the tourism sector.
Tourism is Malta’s most important single industry, employing around 20,000 people and accounting for 25 per cent of GDP. Add the multiplier effect and estimates rise, crediting tourism with more than 30 per cent of economic activity. The tourism sector is benefiting from growing trends towards independent travel and niche tourism. The industry has become more proactive in using online distribution channels to drive bookings, and today independent travellers account for more than 52 per cent of all arrivals. The island offers a range of cultural, leisure, sporting and lifestyle activities that are fast making it a leading destination for both leisure and business visitors. The waters around its coast are among the cleanest in the Mediterranean, making it an ideal location for diving and other water sports. Malta has also become one of the top players in the Mediterranean cruise industry.
A Vibrant Sector
The tourism sector relies heavily on small enterprises, especially in the restaurant and tour operator segment. Malta’s move up-market has also encouraged the arrival of international hotel chains including Hilton, Starwood, Radisson and Kempinski, operating as franchises with local partners. There are also a number of family-run Maltese and boutique hotels. In total, the island has an accommodation capacity of some 45,000 beds. The best occupancy rates can be found in four-star hotels and five-star properties, reflecting the change in Malta’s product offering.
Easy accessibility and availability of low-cost carriers operating from previously underserved markets are also seen as a key reason for the high tourism figures. Malta’s only airport, Malta International Airport (MIA), has expanded greatly over the past decades. At present, it handles some 4 million passengers per year, but has the capacity to handle 5 million. Europe as a whole accounts for 83 per cent of tourist arrivals. The UK is Malta’s most important market, followed by Italy, Germany, France and Scandinavian countries. However, significant progress has been made in attracting tourists from non-EU countries, especially from Russia, the USA, Japan and China.
The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) remains focused on positioning Malta not only as a summer destination with fabulous weather, but also as an exciting year-round destination. Investment has been accordingly targeted. In addition, Valletta’s designation as European Capital of Culture for 2018 means that it will enjoy significant investment in the run-up to the event.
Looking to the future, the challenge will be to compete successfully with other Mediterranean destinations. Price-conscious consumers are now reviving demand in Greece, Spain and Italy. However, given the healthy state of Malta’s tourism product, maintaining its success should not be difficult. Malta offers luxury resorts and affordable accommodation, and a generally diverse product range that appeals to price conscious and luxury-seeking tourists in equal measure.