Cruise liners won’t reach Malta until mid-August

Valletta Cruise Port CEO Stephen Xuereb revealed to BusinessToday that the situation regarding expected cruise liner calls to Malta would be clearer come August 


Along with Malta’s airport, the country’s seaports reopened on Wednesday after months of having been shut in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

But while Malta International Airport has already seen the first flights to and from Malta, the cruise passenger industry is somewhat different.

Speaking to BusinessToday, Valletta Cruise Port CEO Stephen Xuereb said that the situation regarding expected cruise liner calls to Malta would be clearer come August.

Asked how many cruise ships could be expected to visit in the coming months, Xuereb said it was very difficult to say at the moment.

“It’s still touch-and-go. The cruise industry is delicate, and it needs to plan long-term, drawing up itineraries and making arrangements with countries,” Xuereb said.

In the meantime, Xuereb said that Valletta Cruise Port had formulated all needed COVID-19 safety protocols. “These have been sent to the health authorities for approval,” he highlighted.

Xuereb said that Malta was looking at countries including Italy, Germany and Spain in terms of places where cruise ships could come from. “Such countries are the most synonymous with cruises.”

In terms of the number of passengers which could visit Malta on their cruise, he reiterated that it was too early to give an estimation. “It’s too early to say. As a cruise port, we’re now open for businesses, but the industry itself is still planning its itineraries.”

This newspaper also reached out to SMSMondial, one of the leading local cruise travel agencies, with the company’s executive manager Paul Pizzuto confirming Xuereb’s comments that ship operators would be restarting cruises next month after months of being at a standstill.

“Cruise lines are planning to restart their cruises gradually, and largely as from around mid-August onwards, with temporary itineraries which reflect destinations that are deemed to be safe to travel to,” Pizzuto said.

“Bookings for these cruises have not yet started since they are not yet on sale, but shall be put on the market in the coming days. Cruise lines are expected to revert to their original programmes sometime around October,” he said.

Pizzuto also underlined that bookings for next year have kept coming in.

“Cruise bookings from October onwards – especially for 2021 have never stopped, but they obviously did very much slow down and sales are expected to pick up as from autumn.”

Questioned on which ports the travel agency’s cruises could be calling at, Pizzuto said these might include Greece or Italy. “Ports for these temporary itineraries are still being finalised, but they are expected to cover either Greece or Italy. More news shall be available in the coming days,” he said.

“Prices are expected to be very attractive, even though due to social distancing requirements cruise ships are expected to carry a maximum of around 40% of their normal capacity – this means about 100 sq.m of onboard public space per passenger,” Pizzuto added.

NSO statistics show that, in the first three months of 2020, Malta received nine cruise liner calls, with over 40,000 passengers, the vast majority of whom were transit passengers.   

Ports were closed on 10 March, as the country strived to limit the number of COVID-19 cases locally.

In 2018 and 2019 respectively, around 78,000 and 70,000 cruise ship passengers visited Malta.

Earlier this week, Tourism Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli said that the island was expecting to welcome 700,00 tourist arrivals by the end of the year. This is a far cry from recent highs, with Malta having attracted a record 2.7 million tourists last year.

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