Ryanair, the low-cost airline carrier, is promising to deliver two million tourists in the next three years, in return for a discounted rate at the Malta International Airport.
But Minister for Tourism Francis Zammit Dimech has said the claim “needs to be verified in an objective manner.”
This commitment was reportedly first made to GRTU head of the hospitality and leisure division Philip Fenech. During a meeting with the press held yesterday, Michael Cawley, Ryanair deputy chief executive reiterated this guarantee: “this revolutionary kind of proposal will save the ailing Maltese tourism industry.”
And Fenech concurs: “The authorities should accommodate any low-cost airlines that have shown interest in our island so that the island can benefit from new growth that such airlines attract as has been seen in other countries.”
Discussions on low-cost travel have been described by the government as being “positive and sincere”, but Cawley has called them “inert” with talks having trailed for nearly a year now.
RyanAir assert that the discounted rates offered to them by the MIA are still “three times more costly than other airports.” They are insisting that as a rule of thumb a thousand jobs are created for every million-passenger increase. If what RyanAir is stating is indeed true, then the multiplier effect that an influx of tourists would bring is the injection that the economy would need.
Even so an analysis of charges at MIA show that airport landing charges in Malta are cheaper than most other airports in Europe including some of which are already serviced by Ryanair such as Girona and Valencia in Spain.
MIA charges are still comparable with the same levels as other airports used by low-cost carriers. Other taxes levied by government, such as the ticket departure tax to the tune of Lm20 have nothing to do with MIA.
A spokesperson for the tourism ministry said “government is expecting to receive a concrete proposal from Ryanair within the coming week and respond later as may be necessary.”
No indication was given of when Minister Zammit Dimech intends to respond, the procrastination of which is probably not what worried stakeholders in the tourism industry are hoping for. With the latest tourism figures show that the modest target of an increase in 50,000 tourists will not be achieved this year, Ryanair could be the shock treatment that the Maltese tourism industry might need.
Earlier this week, Zammit Dimech said that the demand in real terms for travel and tourism is expected to increase by 4.1 per cent in real terms between 2006 and 2015.
However he did not state what percentage of these figures could be apportioned to Malta. And if this year’s performance is the result of the ministry’s best efforts, the stakeholders in the Maltese tourism industry should not hold their breath.