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MALTATODAY 22 January 2023

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maltatoday | SUNDAY • 22 JANUARY 2023 13 COMMERCIAL The angel is in the details too Last year was a weathervane for our tourism industry, a pillar of our econ- omy. It was the live test of the speed, nature and direction of our post-pan- demic recovery. Crucially, it also gave us a glimpse of the shape of the sec- tor's future. With 2022 behind us and 2023 in its infancy, this is a good time to take a fact-based look at how we did and how we're likely to be doing in the future. Starting with a bird's eye view, how do last year's figures compare with the pre-pandemic ones? In 2022, we welcomed 2.2 million tourists, amounting to 82% of those in 2019. This steep recovery acquires even sharper significance given that in the first four months of 2022 the world was still under the threatening pall of Omicron. As always, Malta continued to com- pete with its Mediterranean destina- tion competitors with one hand tied behind our back. Unlike them, air connectivity is the only way tourists can come to us. And yet we managed to perform much better than expect- ed. Zooming in, the picture becomes even more positive. Guest nights quickly returned to 85% of the 2019 figures and the average length of stay was actually higher. Seeding more optimism, last year's tourists left more of their money in our country. This suggests that we are beginning to attract more of the sort of traveller we have been actively targeting. The state of play of our tourism sec- tor is also gauged by the way the pan- demic might have changed the size and pattern of our footprint in world markets. Concretely, in the minds of potential tourists, has the pandem- ic altered Malta's attractiveness, for better or for worse? Even here, the news is pretty good. Last year, the performance of the Polish, Italian, French and Austrian markets surpassed 2019 levels. The Dutch and Hungarian ones are al- most at par and the Swiss, America, German and Belgian reached around 80% of 2019 levels. Confirming the quality and solidity of our destination offer is the fact that the pandemic did not much alter the relative percent- ages of those visiting us for pleasure compared to business. In sum, the numbers tell a single, irrefutable story. They reflect promo- tion and marketing efforts to broaden the capacity to tap into a wider spec- trum of source markets. Having said this, our performance in the UK, Irish and Scandinavian markets only hit below 70% of the pre-pandemic benchmark. The plus side, however, is that we know what the key contributing factor is - lack of air connectivity to counterbal- ance our geographic handicap. On this front we are doing all we can to sort this challenge out. The strategy seems to be working. This winter we already secured 90% of the air con- nectivity which was in place in 2019. I should also add that it was a pleas- ure to hear that the Malta Interna- tional Airport has embarked on a €175 million investment programme to increase air traffic. This should help. A lot. In sum the facts speak for them- selves. As it were, our tourism in- dustry had received the best possible financial vaccine against the covid-vi- rus. And the recovery results prove it. Now to the future. Again, I shall continue to rest on them rather than our laurels. Sound and reliable fore- casting is telling us that the volume of inbound tourists this year will hit the 2.4 million mark. We will contin- ue improving. To ensure this result we will con- tinue to bolster connectivity, sustain MTA's marketing efforts in primary and secondary source markets and invest in the regeneration of tourism hot spots. As a ministry, along with the pri- vate and public stakeholders, we are fully committed to these goals. So that when we look at the details in the years to come we will continue to find angels. Clayton Bartolo Minister for Tourism THIS IS A PAID COLLABORATION

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