A recovery that came a year earlier

The huge increase in tourist arrivals vis-à-vis pre-pandemic records was driven by younger tourists visiting Malta for the first time.

When the 2021-2030 tourism strategy was launched at the end of 2021, the Government’s target – based on broad consultation with operators – was that, in the most optimistic scenario, Malta would reach its tourism record of 2019 in 2024. In fact, the number of flights to Malta has remained below the 2019 level over the past year. Despite this, the number of tourists who visited Malta not only reached 2019 levels, but a new record was established.

Almost three million tourists visited Malta last year. This meant an increase of almost a third over 2022, and 7% on the previous record of 2019. The majority of tourists, almost 1.9 million tourists, spent their holiday in a hotel, marking an increase of around 155,000 tourists on pre-pandemic levels.

While a new record was reached in the number of nights these tourists spent in Malta, totalling 20.2 million nights, the average visit fell under 7 days, or slightly less than that observed before the pandemic. Data also show that, while there has been a sharp increase in tourists coming to Malta for a holiday, the number of those who visited the country for business or conferences has not yet reached the 2019 level.

This may reflecte changes in the industry, especially the effect technology is having when it comes to virtual meetings. Another development that continued was the downward tendency in package tourists. This is also still well below the pre-pandemic number and may also reflect the fact that travel among older people, who are more accustomed to travel with tours, is still below the level observed in 2019.

In fact, the huge increase vis-à-vis pre-pandemic records was mainly among young tourists. The number of under-24s who visited Malta was 114,000 more, or 21% higher, than in 2019. It also turns out that many of these were visiting the country for the first time. The number of repeat tourists is in fact still below pre-pandemic levels. This indicates that there is still potential for further growth, as older travellers return to pre-pandemic travel behaviour and business travel resumes.

Although tourists who came to Malta tended to be younger than those who came before the pandemic, their spending was still very high. In fact, a record revenue for the industry, of almost €2.7 billion, was reached. This is half a billion euro more than in 2019. The per capita spend of tourists in 2023 was about €90 more, or 11% better, than that observed before the pandemic.

What is more, the outlook for 2024 seems very positive, with Malta International Airport reporting that a new record of more than 465,000 passengers was reached in January. This is 23% more than in January 2023, reflecting the fact that flights to Malta have increased sharply. This reflects the optimism that airlines are feeling towards the country’s tourism market.

Photo: Andrea Piacquadio

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