Tourism is an essential contributor to Malta’s economy, providing 40 568 direct tourism jobs or 16.9% of total employment and a total tourism expenditure of EUR 2.2 billion in 2019. Malta estimates that the tourism decline in 2020 contributed to a 7.8% fall in overall GVA. This fall in GVA is likely to have reduced labour income by almost 8% and overall employment by 9.5%.

International tourism is a significant contributor to the Maltese tourism ecosystem, with 2.8 million international tourists in 2019. Inbound tourists declined to 659 000 in 2020, down 76% compared to 2019. In 2020, Malta’s top three inbound markets for overnight visitors were the United Kingdom, Italy and Germany.

The pandemic resulted in record domestic overnight stays in Malta, recording 360 500 overnight tourists in 2020, up 51.9% from 2019. However, for a small island state such as Malta, domestic tourism is not a factor that can compensate for inbound tourism.

In 2021, inbound tourists increased to 968 000, but still remained 70.9% below 2019 levels. Total tourism expenditure was estimated to be EUR 870 million, an increase of 91% compared to 2020. Recovery to 2019 levels is not expected until 2024 or 2025.

Tourism in Malta is the responsibility of the Ministry for Tourism. Its mission is to establish and execute a tourism policy based on the principles of sustainable development. The Ministry strives to improve Malta’s competitiveness by working with all stakeholders to ensure that products, services and value reach levels that enable both the island of Malta and Gozo to improve the seasonal spread of tourism and its economic benefits.

The Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) is the destination management organisation under the Ministry’s remit. The Malta Tourism Authority is responsible for promoting Malta as a tourist destination, advising the government on tourism operations and issuing licences under the relevant legislation. The Malta Tourism Authority also caters for the needs of the islands Gozo and Comino. MTA liaises with the Ministry for Gozo and the Gozo Tourism Association (GTA), which represents Gozitan tourism stakeholders and the Gozo Regional Development Authority (GRDA).

Throughout the pandemic, the Ministry collaborated with several Ministries, namely:

  • Ministry for Health: To discuss the COVID-19 situation and the policy initiatives that the Ministry for Health would propose to address the COVID-19 situation.

  • Ministry for Foreign Affairs: To communicate and co-ordinate travel advice (including restrictive measures), the care of COVID-19 patients and repatriation efforts.

  • Ministry for Transport and Infrastructure: To collaborate and implement infrastructure projects during the period.

  • Ministry for Finance: To discuss and implement assistance measures directed toward the Tourism sector.

The governance and implementation elements of the tourism strategy will be supported by a new Malta Tourism Observatory, which will be charged with the responsibility of monitoring and measuring the delivery of the Tourism Strategy. The Malta Tourism Observatory will have a proactive role and will be empowered to commission studies, undertake KPI measurements and consult stakeholders during implementation.

The budget allocated to tourism in 2020 amounted to EUR 138 million from National Tourism Funds and EUR 4.7 million from EU Direct, Structural and Cohesion Funds.

Malta launched its new Tourism Strategy for the years 2021-30 called Recover, Rethink, Revitalise, aiming to re-establish the tourism sector on a sounder footing and in line with international ideals and commitments in the fields of sustainable development and climate change. The key priorities of the Strategy are:

  • An upskilled tourism workforce.

  • Modernised infrastructure.

  • Updated tourism legislation.

  • Stronger potential for digitalisation.

  • Continued development of Malta’s airline connectivity.

  • An innovative approach towards responding to new travel trends.

The Strategy focuses on developing new services and products and continued marketing efforts to position Malta as a destination of choice in the widest range of geographic and motivational travel segments. It outlines the development of a digitalisation roadmap that seeks to empower public, private and non-profit organisations to invest and ensure that efficiency and market presence are maximised through the use of the latest technologies.

In 2021, Malta looked to kick-start the devastated tourism sector through a direct aid package for local tourism establishments valued at EUR 20 million. The aim was to attract tourism activity to Malta, targeting free and independent travellers (FITs) who plan their own trips and travel alone or in small groups as opposed to mass tourism that relies on large groups and travel packages. There are also initiatives addressing Quality Assured Visitor Attractions, long-stay visitors and sports tourists, including diving enthusiasts. The goal is to get tourism on the road to recovery quickly so Malta can generate the necessary number of tourists to support the investment made by the sector.

In the longer term, there is a need for a two-pronged approach to addressing employment in the Maltese tourism sector. The first is to make the sector a more attractive career for Maltese workers and foreign workers. The second is to ensure that foreign workers are not attracted mainly because of their relatively cheap labour cost but also because of the skills necessary to deliver a higher quality experience to Malta’s visitors. In May 2020, Malta launched a EUR 5 million online training programme to develop human resources to improve skills and the tourism product.

Moving forward, Malta will place a greater emphasis on a sustainable approach to tourism development and give less weight to volume growth. The objective is an enhanced offer, improved visitor satisfaction and minimised negative resident impacts.

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