Switch from Air Malta to KM Malta 'surprisingly seamless' - MHRA president

Contrary to expectations, the transition from Air Malta to KM Malta Airlines has thus far been seamless, the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association has revealed

Air Malta will cease operations on 30 March
Air Malta will cease operations on 30 March

Contrary to expectations, the transition from Air Malta to KM Malta Airlines has thus far been seamless, the president of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association has revealed.

Tony Zahra told BusinessToday that the switch to the new airline did not disrupt the booking schedules and that signs, so far, were "very positive".

"Results are in fact beyond expectations and this is very good news for the industry and the country," he said.

Air Malta, the national airline, will cease operations on 30 March, to be replaced on 31 March by KM Malta Airlines.

Zahra said the industry was also buoyed by strong tourist bookings for the upcoming summer.

"Already, 2024 is slightly better than 2023, with a 3 per cent seat capacity over last year," he said. "And last week, we have seen signs that seat capacity on the market might increase even further."

Zahra's positive outlook for the crucial summer months comes in the wake of news this week that Malta welcomed over three million tourists to its shores in 2023, a first for the island.

This figure represents an increase of over 8% compared to the previous record set in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the travel industry, with nearly 2.8 million visitors to Malta.

When announcing the 2023 results, tourism minister Clayton Bartolo noted that the recovery took less than three years to surpass the 2019 levels, a year earlier than anticipated. He emphasized the successful efforts in diversifying markets, broadening the age range of visitors and expanding the reasons for visiting Malta.

A presentation by MTA Deputy CEO and Chief Officer for Strategic Development Leslie Vella, showed how Malta’s tourism recovery from the pandemic has outpaced that of many other Mediterranean countries.

While global tourism numbers still lag behind pre-pandemic levels, at 88% of 2019 figures, travel to Mediterranean countries in Europe has increased by 1% compared to five years ago, a rate lower than Malta's impressive 8% rise. Tourists spent a total of €2.7 billion in Malta in 2023, averaging €132 per day per tourist, marking a one-fifth increase from 2019.

In 2023, the majority of visitors originated from Italy, closely followed by the UK. Italian and British tourists comprised nearly 40% of all inbound tourists, with French and German visitors also showing strong numbers. Polish tourism experienced remarkable growth, with a 60% increase and over 167,000 Polish visitors to Malta last year.

MTA CEO Carlo Micallef explained MTA’s marketing strategy – one that is data driven, focused on higher income experiential traveller demographics, agile to adjust to get best results and customer centric to engage with the potential tourists to our Islands. While emphasizing the significance of marketing initiatives, Micallef also highlighted the Authority's pivotal role in enhancing Malta's appeal to tourists and refining its tourism offerings. He underscored the ongoing commitment to further improvement in the months and years ahead, aiming to sustain the revitalization of Malta's tourism industry.

MTA Chairman Gavin Gulia said that the MTA has every reason to celebrate the fact that, once more, Malta is bucking the trend and outperforming the global and regional performances. He extended thanks and appreciation to all MTA staff for their substantial contributions that culminated in this historic achievement.

Strong January arrivals

Also this week, Malta International Airport confirmed a strong early start in 2024, announcing it had welcomed 465,482 passengers in January, exceeding the 400,000-passenger mark in January for the first time since 2020.

Passenger movements through MIA registered an upswing of 22.7 per cent over 2023, with traffic peaking on 6 January. The day brought the hectic holiday travel season to a close, as 151 flights carried 23,923 passengers to and from Malta International Airport.

Aircraft movements totalled 3,511 in January, corresponding to a 23.4 per cent growth when compared with the same month in 2023. While seat capacity increased by 27.4 per cent over the reference year, load factor registered a drop of 2.8 percentage points, as average occupancy on flights stood at 74 per cent.

The top driver of traffic for January was Italy (+24 per cent over 2023) with a market share of almost 23 per cent, followed by the United Kingdom (+23 per cent), Poland (+59 per cent), Germany (+30 per cent) and France (-20 per cent).

The most significant growth was observed in the Polish market, which has continued to grow steadily over the past years, overtaking Spain, France and Germany to become Malta International Airport’s third largest market in January 2024. Improved frequencies on flights to Polish destinations operated by Ryanair and Wizz Air for the winter season led the market to grow by 59 per cent year-on-year, with the Polish market accounting for c. 10% per cent of all passenger movements last month.

Malta ranks among top performing airports in Europe for 2023

In a report published by Airports Council International (ACI) earlier this month regarding the full-year performance of airports across Europe for 2023, Malta International Airport ranked among the top five performing airports within the EU+ region.

Outperforming its peers in Spain and Italy, Malta placed fourth after registering full-year traffic growth of 6.7 per cent over 2019. Within the same market segment, Portugal (+12.2 per cent) and Greece (+12.1 per cent) placed first and second, respectively, while Iceland placed third with 6.9 per cent growth.

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