Editorial | Getting tourism started again

A decision to lift all travel restrictions will definitely be welcome by the industry but admittedly is not an easy one to make


January traffic through Malta International Airport increased fourfold over the same month in 2021 but numbers remain well below pre-pandemic levels.

Data released by MIA (see page 5) shows that passenger numbers last month were 62% below January 2020, before the pandemic hit.

The recovery still has a long way to go and is very much dependent on how the pandemic develops and what restrictions are introduced or lifted in source markets.

However, Malta also has its own part to play by making it as easy as possible for tourists to visit the island.

MIA has called on the authorities to facilitate travel and put Malta on equal footing with similar Mediterranean destinations in time for the summer season.

Incoming travellers aged 12 and up need to be fully vaccinated or produce a vaccine certificate showing they have recovered from COVID in the previous six months and have received at least one vaccine shot. Malta does not accept negative PCR tests.

Malta’s requirements for incoming travellers are not unique and many other countries have similar restrictions. However, some countries have started to lift travel restrictions in a bid to boost travel and tourism arrivals.

Malta has almost lifted all its internal restrictions and the few that remain are very likely to be lifted over the next three months. With more than 75% of adults having received the vaccine booster shot, the internal situation is pretty much under control.

The vaccination rate among children between five and 11 remains somewhat low at 41% but the overall situation is stable with new cases on a downward trend and hospitalisations falling.

Within this context, the temptation is to lift all travel restrictions. But prudence dictates otherwise, especially in a context where the genesis of the pandemic is unequal across the continent.

However, the authorities must also be in tune with developments overseas. If the situation allows for measures to be reduced or lifted, then the authorities must not delay such moves.

Tourism is an extremely competitive business and if rival markets make it easier for incoming travellers, Malta risks losing out big time.

The domestic tourism industry has been supported for the past two years with the COVID wage supplement, two targeted stimulus packages in the form of vouchers that could be spent at restaurants and on accommodation, tax deferrals and subsidy schemes for rent and utility bills.

But the support cannot continue forever and the solution to this is attracting tourists back to Malta so that businesses can get the wheel rolling again.

The high vaccination rate among the population is in itself a selling point because it provides tourists peace of mind they are travelling to a relatively safe country.

A decision to lift all travel restrictions will definitely be welcome by the industry but admittedly is not an easy one to make.

Adopting a gradual approach over the next couple of months by completely lifting restrictions for incoming travellers from certain countries where the pandemic is well under control and vaccination rates are high could be one way of moving forward.

There is, however, the need to understand that tourism functions on medium to long term planning. To encourage a positive summer, decisions on travel restrictions will have to be taken by the end of the first quarter at the least so that operators can plan ahead.

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