Christophe Berger, Director VisitMalta Incentives & Meetings shares with MICE Travel Advisor, the current travel trends in Malta and how the island nation braces for MICE revival post pandemic.
What is the present tourism scenario in Malta after the reopening of international borders? What is the average annual tourist footfall post pandemic (2021-2022 tourism season)?
Christophe Berger: In 2021, the number of inbound tourists increased by a strong 47%, almost reaching one million, but remained 65% below the pre-pandemic year 2019. This follows a 76% plunge in inbound tourism in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Inbound tourism took a turn for the better towards the end of the second quarter (June), as the first months of the year were characterised by essential travel only and very limited air seat capacity due to the high restrictive travel measures introduced by countries to address the rising number of positive Covid-19 cases. Subsequently, the rising vaccination rates combined with softer travel restrictions (due to increased cross-border coordination and protocols), have all contributed to the increase in inbound tourism from June onwards, resulting from increases in travel confidence from a demand perspective and air seat capacity from a supply viewpoint.
The number of inbound tourists to Malta in 2022 is expected to reach 1.9 million, amounting to 70% of the volumes attracted in peak year 2019, and almost double the amount of tourists of the previous year 2021.
The most recent actual figures for 2022 are of the period January to April, where inbound tourists increased from 43,433 in 2021 to 429,841.
What are your plans to promote tourism in the Maltese Islands?
Christophe Berger: Our plans as Visit Malta Incentives & Meetings are laid out in two phases. The first one is to consolidate our main European source markets- the UK, France, Germany and Italy.We restarted actively participating in fairs and exhibitions in these markets and taking other initiatives. Being an Island, airline routes are a lifeline for us and we believe that in focusing on the main markets we would also be supporting the existing routes which are so important for our connectivity.
The second phase is to identify emergent long-haul markets such as the USA, South America, Australia, and Asia, and start working to grow these new markets.
We also work closely with local suppliers and stakeholders. We have regular support schemes in place to assist them with promotional and marketing efforts. During the pandemic our M.I.C.E. Business Scheme was the strongest asset to support the industry in order to attract new business. Stakeholders are the backbone of our industry and we feel it’s important to supportand assist them get back on their feet and plan their initiatives.
How does Malta Tourism Authority strive at securing a sustainable future for its travel industry?
Christophe Berger: During the pandemic the Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) together with the Ministry for Tourism invested in training of the Tourism & Hospitality workforce. Through the e-Learning Scheme MTA focused on enriching theeducation and competence of our industry workforce to ensure that our service is top-notch for when we re-open. The scheme gave tourism employees access to a large number of accredited courses and also University degrees by covering 100% of the costs.
The Ministry of Tourism, MTA and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association have launched the strategy for 2021-2030. It is based on three pillars: to help the sector: Recover, Rethink and Revitalize. The next phase is to unravel the idea of a single destination Malta. Our islands are so small yet they are packed with so many different experiences and this surprises our visitors. The vision is to offer various niche segments based on assets and products on offer in the various attractive zones on our islands. It’s a vast strategy, but from a MICE perspective, there are plans to create a National Convention and Events Centre with an extensive year-round calendar of events. The future looks exciting.
Please share your experiences of hosting MICE events after reopening of the borders.
Christophe Berger: As a central MICE organization we organize familiarization trips to Malta & Gozo. We had various fam trips since the re-opening and everyone is super eager to travel and restart. For us as a destination, the opportunity of hosting fam trips is an important one.
Many events have started again and overall the general feedback is great, people are very happy to travel, meet again, discover and re-engage with their teams.
The sector is super busy andlooking ahead – there’s a lot going on.The challenge currently is to source and recruitemployees to work in tourism and hospitality. We’re also seeing a big focus on sustainability more than ever across all MICE events and meetings.
Tell us something about some of Malta’s attractions and experiences that set the islands apart from others of its kind.
Christophe Berger: Let me give you a little background about our Islands. The Maltese Islands are a small group of Islands in the middle of the Mediterranean bathed in over 300 days of sunshine and enjoying great weather all year round. Together with Maltese, English is our official language. We are an official EU Member State, transact in Euro and also part of the Schengen Area, meaning that there is freedom of movement and no passport control when travelling in this area.
Being small means distances are short and so are transfer times. It doesn’t take more than 50 minutes to cross the entire Island lengthwise, yet there’s so much to do. The product offer ranges from local and authentic experiences such as wineries and agritourism placesto international names such as Café del Mar and Beef Bar. Our food is something to be experienced – it’s got influences from Arabic, Italian, British and French cuisines. The gastronomic scene has developed so much in recent years especially with Michelin guideincluding Malta on their map.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about our islands is our rich 7,000-year history, National heritage and culture. The Megalithic temples, Valletta – a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an open air museum, and the Hypogeum – a prehistoric underground structure, are just a few attractions and experiences which set the Islands apart.
Gozo, the smaller Island offers the beauty of tradition, rural setting and calmness. It is the perfect destination for those seeking wellness and retreats, and also outdoor adventure. Last but not least sailing is probably one of the most unbeatable experiences our Islands have to offer, together with all water activities.
How do you assess Malta’s future in incentive travel and meetings industries?
Christophe Berger: The pandemic has brought about trends and requests that our Islands can handle exceptionally well. One change we’ve seen is group sizes becoming smaller. We feel that this has increased the appeal of our Islands especially for incentive travel. In addition to this, outdoor spaces have become more important than ever andthis is a core product offer that we have in Malta & Gozo due to being blessed with a great all year-round weather.
Being insular, our tourism industry relies heavily on airline connectivity.We had excellent connectivity pre-Covid and are now close to achieving back that level of connectivity. We have also made new partnerships with important names such as Forbes, which continue to grow our presence on the map.
The Maltese Islands are a mature destination and this allows us to focus on and develop what we’re best at. Our network of suppliers have also learnt and developed a lot from this tough experience, some of them diversified, some have merged, we’ve seen new concepts as well. It’s all about being positive in how you handle change and I think we’re on the right path to grow sustainably.