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Tourist arrivals, spend, bed nights on the rise - de Marco

Drafting new tourism plan

The contract with Media Consulta came to an end last May and the MTA was to issue a new tender for a new marketing consultant in international markets. Branding Malta rested on heritage, hospitality and product diversity - Mario de Marco.

The contract with Media Consulta came to an end last May and the MTA was to issue a new tender for a new marketing consultant in international markets. Branding Malta rested on heritage, hospitality and product diversity - Mario de Marco.

Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco told Parliament on Monday that there was an increase of four per cent in tourist arrivals between January and April this year, an increase in the total bed nights and in the amount that tourists spent in Malta, which amounted to €24 million.

Winding up the debate on the motion for the House to approve the 2010 estimates of the Malta Tourism Authority, Dr de Marco said the strategy laid down in the five-year national tourism plan was being followed even though the opposition had declared the plan was obsolete.

He said that while tourist expenditure on accommodation in 2007 was €17 million for the first four months and it reached the €27 million mark this year. Money spent in restaurants and other places between January and April amounted to €85 million when it was €81 million in 2007 and €77 million in 2008. Tourist arrivals and bed nights were also on the increase. The MHRA survey showed occupancy rates would continue to improve.

The Malta Tourism Authority was addressing emergent markets. Malta attracted 30,000 tourists from Japan every year. MTA would have a representative for Asia and another one in South Korea. The representative in Dubai was operating and more people from the Emirates were visiting Malta.

Dr de Marco said that discussions were underway with Air Malta because the German market did not register increases. However, more tourists from the UK, France, Italy, Spain and Scandinavia had visited Malta during the first four months of the year.

Discussions were also underway with low-cost airlines so that visitors would have the best possible choice of airports.

Incentives were given for the conference market resulting in an increase in 30,000 bed nights. Malta was voted the best diving destination in the Mediterranean.

Dr de Marco said that the contract with Media Consulta came to an end last May and the MTA was to issue a new tender for a new marketing consultant in international markets. Branding Malta rested on heritage, hospitality and product diversity.

Earlier, introducing the motion, the Parliamentary Secretary said 2009 was characterised by the global recession, higher oil prices and the swine flu. Several airlines decided to limit their routes and many people decided to spend a vacation in their own country.

In 2009, flights in Europe slipped by seven per cent. There were 766 fewer flights towards Malta and a drop of eight per cent of tourists compared to 2008. Dr de Marco noted that one was comparing a difficult year (2009) with one of the best years for the tourism sector (2008).

However, success was also registered in 2009. While airlines reduced routes, others were encouraged to operate new routes. Air Malta, Ryanair and Easyjet increased their routes by eight, four and one respectively. Air Malta had also increased seat capacity.

Working together with stakeholders left its positive results: while tourism in Malta had decreased with eight per cent, Spain and the Canary Islands tourism went down by 11 and 12 per cent respectively.

The government had agreed with commercial banks to offer a year's moratorium to hotels not to pay capital loan repayments in order to have more cash in hand to retain their employees during a difficult year. Dr de Marco said 15 hotels had benefitted through this offer.

Working with public agencies generated more than 30,000 bed nights. Thirty operators had also benefitted from a joint-marketing scheme, where the government matched the amount of money hotels spent on advertising. Incentives to sports clubs yielded more than 22,000 bed nights.

Dr de Marco maintained that if Malta wanted to boost tourism, it had to increase routes and towards this end, the MTA and the Malta International Airport held discussions with airlines that already operated to Malta or potential airlines.

There were 16 new routes this year. Air Malta increased four routes, Ryanair opened its base-station and Easyjet started operating from new routes. Norwegian airlines wanted to increase the flight's frequency towards Malta since Malta was very popular. Malta was accessible from 76 airports.

In 2007, there were only 54 airports that had access to Malta. Meanwhile, the MIA was forecasting a six per cent increase in passenger movement.

Markets that provided tourists to Malta were still suffering from the global recession but past work left its positive results. MTA advertised Malta in Italy as well and also held online competitions while also using lastminute.com and expedia.com.

Dr de Marco said the strategy adopted on more accessibility to Malta left good results. With new routes from France, there was an increase of 15 per cent of French tourists. Spanish tourists were now representing four per cent of the tourists that visit Malta. Spanish tourists increased to 134 per cent. There was also a hike from Scandinavian countries.

An increase was registered in other arrivals that amounted now to 55 per cent of tourists that visited Malta, while 45 per cent came through a tour operator. Agreements were reached with foreign tour operators, such as Thomas Cook, to bring more tourists. Moreover, Malta would be holding the Association of British Travel Agents' conference, which was usually held in Spain and some 800 British agents and 200 journalists would be travelling to Malta.

MTA spent €29 million in adverts and information campaigns. It had also brought over foreign journalists on familiarisation visits, which netted wider media coverage. It would also invest €500,000 on TV advertising in the UK, Italy and Germany and €1 million in online marketing.

There was a rise of four per cent in arrivals between January and April. There was also an increase in the total nights and the amount of money tourists spent here, which amounted to €24 million.

Dr de Marco said that hotel and other facilities should meet tourists' needs. According to a 2007 report, several three-star hotels did not refurbish their facilities for more than 20 years. While the government should keep the infrastructure at the best levels, hotels and restaurants should also contribute and improve their facilities.

While many tourists visited Malta during the summer months, tourism was spread better here than in other countries. However, work must continue to improve seasonality.

The Ministry for Tourism monitored entities to ensure that available funds are used in the best way. The Environmental Upgrade Committee was coordinating works St Paul's Bay, St Julians and Sliema.

MTA managed St George's bay, Golden bay and Għadira bay by providing lifeguards and first aid assistants.

Malta would be the first state that would treat waste before this is deposited into the sea.

The EU had stated that 99 per cent of Maltese waters met exceptional levels.

Through Mepa funds, €7.4 million were allocated for various local councils to improve village centres. While the National Plan required human resources, €3 million were earmarked to organise training programmes for people involved in the industry.

Gozo should be advertised as a unique destination. There should also be greater accessibility for cruise liners in Gozo. There were other measures for tour operators to specialise in the Gozitan market.

A team of high officials would embark on the drafting of a new tourism plan following which there would be wide consultations with stakeholders.

Concluding, Dr de Marco said that together with authorities and other stakeholders, the government would be able to overcome all challenges.

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