Are the Maltese still reluctant to travel abroad?

Figures released by the National Statistics Office reveal that total outbound trips from Malta between January and June 2021 were 50% below the same period in 2020. By contrast, the number of inbound tourists for the first half of the year was down by 62% on an annual basis. This would suggest that the decline in Maltese going abroad is less pronounced than that of foreigners coming to Malta.

The number of tourists coming to Malta in the first half of 2021 was just 12% that observed in the same period of 2019, before the pandemic. By contrast, the number of outbound tourists from Malta this year was 19% of the respective pre-pandemic level. Again, this would imply that the Maltese are proving to be more interested in travelling abroad than people from our tourism source markets. Alternatively, one could interpret this as evidence that Government’s travel restrictions are discouraging more foreign tourists than they are discouraging locals from travelling abroad.

Majority travelled to visit family or friends

However, if one digs deeper into the data, one arrives at a somewhat different interpretation of recent trends. In fact, 53% of the outbound tourists from Malta this year said they were travelling to visit relatives or friends. This is more than double the proportion that was observed before the pandemic struck.

With a very large proportion of foreign residents living in Malta for work purposes, it is inevitable that these regularly visit their family back in their country of origin. In fact, there were reports in the press about foreign nationals complaining that Government’s travel restrictions were not allowing them to visit their relatives. Given the chance, these persons opted to travel, though even here travel is still at 46% of pre-pandemic levels. The data suggest that when people managed to travel, they opted for long stays, with 63% of all outbound tourists staying abroad for 7 days or more. Again, this proportion was more than double the pre-pandemic level.

The number of locals travelling abroad for business purposes was still at 17% of 2019 levels. By contrast, the number of foreigners travelling to Malta for business purposes was at 22% of the pre-pandemic level. A primary reason for this discrepancy is possibly that a lot of Maltese travelling abroad on business do so in relation to meetings of international institutions such as the European Union, which during the pandemic resorted to online rather than physical meetings.

Have we become travel shy?

If one looks at foreign tourists who travelled to Malta for a holiday during the first half of 2021 this stood at 10% of the 2019 level. By contrast, the number of those who travelled from Malta to a foreign country for a holiday between January and June 2021 was just 7% of the pre-pandemic level.

So, while a quick reading of official data would suggest that the Maltese are less averse to foreigners when it comes to taking holidays, a deeper analysis reveals that the Maltese are proving to have become very travel shy. The upshot of all this is that the falling demand for foreign travel has been a much-heightened demand for domestic tourism. Whether this will be a temporary flip or not is something that only time can tell, but in the short term this development is aiding significantly the recovery of Malta’s, and particularly Gozo’s, tourism industry.

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