Tourism has been one of the mainstays of the Maltese economy ever since the post war period but it really took off in the late 1960’s peaking in the late 1970’s early 1980’s when over a million tourists were reached in a year.
The large hotels which were built during this period included the iconic Hilton Hotel in St Julian’s, the Dragonara Resort (now the Westin Dragonara) as well as other smaller but no less important edifices such as the Preluna Hotel in Sliema and the Mellieha Bay Hotel in the North of the island.
Mass market tourism has always been the mainstay of Malta’s product but in the past two decades, the product has shifted slightly more to the quality side with cultural tourists on the increase.
However the introduction of low cost airlines in 2008 has been a game changer for the industry with tourist arrivals increasing almost every year by record levels since, barring the ‘lean’ years of 2009 and 2010 when the economic crisis hit Europe and the United States.
2015 was indeed a record year for tourism in Malta with nearly 1.8 million visitors making it to our shares, an increase of 6 per cent over 2014 figures which is surely an incredible number. Challenges to infrastructure remain however and the usual problems that affect tourists such as public transport, infrastructural issues and general untidiness still need to be addressed.
The cruise liner industry is also an important mainstay for Malta as a whole. Although these visitors tend to spend less per capita than tourists on longer stays, they still contribute considerably to the local economy. Again, this industry is showing a booming trend with an increase of around 66 per cent in cruise liner arrivals over 2014, a mammoth boost although there had been some years when this industry was in the doldrums.
Malta International Airport is also a crucial factor in the tourism industry with record passenger movements being achieved month on month and year on year. MIA is expected to host at least 4.7 Million passengers in 2016 and it welcomed a total of 4,618,642 passengers in 2015.
These are the main points expected this year:
The airport is forecasting 4.73 million passengers for 2016, a 2.4 per cent growth over 2015
Three new low cost airlines are expected to start operating in 2016: Volotea, Iberia Express and Czech Airlines.
The airport has investment plans totalling €78 million: €40 million on SkyParks 2, €28 million for a Terminal Expansion and €9.8million in capital expenditure for 2016.
All in all, the tourism industry is in excellent shape for this year and the prospects are bright. Malta remains a relatively safe country with an excellent quality of life while the vast array of cultural hotspots make it an ideal stop for the discerning tourist. The magic of Gozo is also not to be discounted and this island is also extremely popular as a second home location with hundreds of expats owning property on the sister island as well as settling there permanently in some cases.