Tourists in Malta went down considerably between September and December last year – the period when the public at large started reacting to the global credit crunch and the ensuing economic crisis.
Figures released by the National Statistics Office yesterday show a staggering fall of 10.3 per cent in the last quarter, with a drop of 12.4 per cent registered in December, preceded by a 10.8 per cent fall in November, a 9.3 per cent fall in October and a 2.7 per cent fall in September.
And the unfolding year promises to be a tough one as travellers are wondering whether they will afford to go abroad and businesses are cutting down their costs on incentive travel.
This notwithstanding, overall tourism figures show an increase of 3.8 per cent over 2007 and an increase of 2.2 per cent in total nights spent by tourists.
Yet the total tourist expenditure, standing at €1.04 million, decreased by 1.6 per cent last year, with the per capita expenditure decreasing by €50 down to €819.
This is mostly explained because of a declining average length of stay and a significant shift from packages to independent travel, reducing expenses lost on middlemen.
“We have performed to very high levels, despite the difficult international economic and financial scenario,” Parliamentary Secretary for Tourism Mario de Marco said in reaction to the statistics.
Despite the bleak outlook, Malta remained one of the top performing Mediterranean destinations in 2008, with a significant record of having one in every three visitors being repeat tourists. Other Mediterranean destinations, with the exception of Turkey, registered a decline from mid 2008.
Tourism growth was mianly attributed to an increase in holiday visits from Italy, Germany and Spain, with the latter registering a staggering 32.2 per cent increase.
The British market dropped by 5.8 per cent, mainly because of lack of seat capacity.
The other most notable decreases came from the US, where there was a drop of 11.8 per cent, Scandinavian countries (-2 per cent), and Austria (-2.7 per cent).
An indication of the bleak times ahead comes from the Official Airline Guide with figures showing that demand for travel is shrinking worldwide as the aviation industry is in the midst of the economic crisis.
More than 46 million airline seats have been reportedly cut since October.
Inbound tourists in December 2008 were estimated at 45,139, a decrease of 12.4 per cent when compared to the same month in 2007.
De Marco explained the December figures in terms of certain routes being dropped, particularly the Ryanair flight to Valencia.
Malta Tourism Authority chief executive Josef Formosa Gauci said price will once again become a major determinant in one’s choice of holiday. Customers will book very late, as they are not ready to commit their money from now for their summer holidays when they do not even know if they will have a job by then.
He said MTA’s marketing strategy this year will revolve around increasing airline accessibility to promising markets, coupled with a sustained promotional campaign.
For the first time, Air Malta has agreed to use all its 12 aircraft on the Malta route this summer. MTA has also secured increased flight frequencies to Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Munich, Frankfurt, Malpensa, Zurich, Mosco, Istanbul and Sofia, besides new routes to Verona, Stuttgart and Paris.
Meanwhile Ryanair will be operating new trips to Trapani, Edinburgh, and Bristol; Easyjet will fly from Newcastle; and SAS from Stockholm. Vueling will keep its route from Madrid while Clickair has reconfirmed its routes from Barcelona and Valencia.
The emphasis on advertising and marketing abroad will be on the prices, with price offers shown clearly in every advert, Formosa Gauci said.
The Tourstat survey indicated that the majority of tourists, or 44,102, came to Malta by air last year. The number of air tourists are estimated to have decreased by 12.9 per cent, while seaport tourism increased by 18.2 per cent. Results also show that 82.8 per cent of inbound tourists in December came to Malta on holiday, while a further 12.3 per cent visited the island for business purposes.
Meanwhile, total nights spent increased by 16.5 per cent when compared to the same month in 2007.
More specifically, total nights spent in private accommodation increased by 53.7 per cent, while guest nights in collective accommodation increased by 6.4 per cent. Overall, the average length of stay is calculated at 10.1 nights, up by 2.5 nights when compared to December 2007.
Inbound tourists for 2008 are estimated at 1,290,856, an increase of 3.8 per cent over 2007. In absolute terms, the growth is mostly attributable to an increase in holiday visits, mainly from the Italian, German and Spanish markets. On the other hand, decreases were recorded in the British, American and Scandinavian markets.
87.9 per cent of all inbound visitors comprised tourists coming from EU Member States. For the period under review, an increase was registered among tourists who came to Malta on non-package holidays, while the number of tourists opting for a package trip decreased by 12.9 per cent. The largest proportion of inbound passengers were between 45-64, followed by those in the 25-44 age bracket. Having said this the biggest increase is attributable to the 0-24 age group.
During this period, total nights spent increased by 2.2 per cent when compared to 2007. Nights spent in private accommodation increased by 8.0 per cent, while guest nights in collective accommodation were virtually unchanged in percentage terms. With regard to the latter, guest nights in the 5-star and 4-star categories increased respectively by 4.6 and 0.2 per cent, while the 3-star category registered a drop of 12.6 per cent. For 2008, the average length of stay is calculated at 8.7 nights, down by 0.2 nights when compared to last year’s level.
In the period under review, total tourist expenditure is estimated at €1,041.2 million, a decrease of 1.6 per cent over total tourist expenditure for 2007. The growth in non-package expenditure was contrasted by a reduction in package and other expenditure.
The survey results indicate that the per capita total expenditure is estimated at €819, down by 5.8 per cent when compared to the annual figure for 2007.