Fourfold increase in passenger movement in the past 4 months

In the last 4 months, passenger traffic through Malta International Airport, the only airport on the Islands, has been nearly four times as much as in 2020. The number of passengers observed between April and July 2021 is nearly equal to those observed between April and October 2020.

Despite all the issues that arose, including the closure of the language schools and the introduction of the vaccination requirement, July 2021 was the best month for the Malta International Airport since February 2019, that is the first full month before the pandemic. In August last year, which was the peak of our tourist year, movements were 252,022, as against 311,692 this July. This means that a quarter more activity was registered.

Initial indications for August also appear positive, with flight capacity at nearly 72% of August 2019 levels, and the proportion of seats taken at approximately two-thirds of 2019 levels. This suggests that August activity is even better than that of July.

Passenger movements

Understanding the trends in tourism has become challenging in a scenario where the goalposts are changing all the time as travel restrictions are lifted and put in place according to COVID infection rates. has analysed various sources to better understand the road to recovery for one of the most important sectors in Malta’s economy.  

On the basis of the data released by the Malta International Airport, we constructed a table that compares passenger movements as from January 2020 to July 2021 with those in the respective months of 2019, that is before the emergence of the pandemic.

In the first seven months of 2020 there were 1,170,668 passengers going through our airport as against 715,504 this year. This marks a 39% drop. So how come we are being told that tourism is slowly recovering?

One has to keep in mind that prior to the first COVID cases, tourism in Malta was booming. In January and February 2020, passenger movements were the highest ever in history, up by double digits over their 2019 levels, which themselves had been record figures. Even in the first half of March growth had persisted, until the airport had to be closed as part of the first reaction to the COVID emergency.

To understand tourism trends better in a post-COVID scenario we need to focus on months where there were restrictions on travel.

Thus, last year between April and July there were 161,617 passengers going through the airport. This year during the same months there were 617,009. 

20% increase predicted over 2020

Compared with 2019 levels, in July we had 39%, or nearly two-fifths, of our pre-pandemic level. This is not a result that can be easily dismissed. By the end of July only about three-fifths of the adult population was vaccinated. Moreover, most teenagers are yet to be vaccinated, meaning that even fully vaccinated adults face restrictions to visit Malta if they would want to travel with teenagers. Thus, given the restrictions, the results achieved in July paint a positive picture on the road to recovery.

If this level of progress persists till the end of the year, then passenger movements could go up by 20% over 2020 levels.

Passenger movements could go up by 20% over 2020 levels.

The country would still have had tourism activity at less than a third than pre-pandemic levels, which is somewhat lower than many last year were forecasting we would be this year. However even more than in other areas, COVID-19 is proving to be a long-drawn marathon for the tourism sector. This is why Government’s assurance of continued financial support to these operators makes a lot of sense.

Analysing tourism data

In Malta, data and information about the state of the tourism industry is possibly the most accessible and readily available of all economic data. Besides the very timely information published on a monthly basis by the National Statistics Office, the Malta International Airport releases data on traffic movement at even timelier intervals.

Less than a fortnight after the end of month, we are told exactly how many passengers passed through our airport, how many flights were carried out and how much carry was transported. By contrast it takes us nearly three months to get to know about what is happening to many other economic indicators. 

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