Malta International Airport is expected to register zero growth in passenger movements for 2005 as statistics clearly point towards a drastic drop in Maltese travellers in the second half of the year when the higher passenger departure tax kicked in, Business Today can reveal.
Analysing passenger figures published by the National Statistics Office, it is amply clear that since August, when the higher tax became effective, MIA registered drops ranging from 17.9 per cent to 36.3 per cent in the number of Maltese travellers passing through its gates.
August 2005 saw a drop of 30 per cent in Maltese travellers over the same number of travellers a year before. The decline in Maltese travellers persisted for the rest of the year with October seeing a steep drop of 36.3 per cent.
The passenger departure tax was doubled to Lm20 in the budget for 2005, a move which was heavily criticised by travel operators.
Statistics show that up to November last year MIA saw 20,279 less Maltese passenger pass through its gates when compared to the same period in 2004.
With almost two thirds of Maltese travellers opting to fly with Air Malta, even the national carrier wasn’t spared the backlash of a higher departure tax. Based on 2004 estimates, it can be extrapolated that in 2005 Air Malta saw around 11,600 less Maltese travellers board its planes. Other carriers carried 8,700 less Maltese passengers. Being the major carrier at MIA, Air Malta’s woes also had an impact on passenger movements at MIA.
But MIA’s troubles were also compounded by the departure of My Travel, which was a cruise and fly initiative that brought in tourists to board their cruise ship in Malta. After My Travel wrapped up its operations, MIA saw a drop of almost 27,000 passengers. Industry sources are expecting this drop in cruise and fly passengers to be a temporary blip since other operators are expected to start operating in the future.
The drop in Maltese travellers and the departure of My Travel were partially compensated by higher passenger traffic from regular non-Maltese travellers. In total MIA saw a marginal increase of just under 1,300 passengers in 2005 over the previous year, representing a growth of less than one per cent.
Industry observers talking to Business Today said that the drop in Maltese travellers cannot be overlooked since it has a direct impact on both Air Malta and MIA. “It is evident that the number of Maltese opting to go on holiday abroad has dropped because of the higher departure tax which makes it less attractive to travel,” one observer told this newspaper.