Any hopes that vacation island Malta could escape the worst of Europe’s recession as people cut back on their spending are evaporating fast as new official figures show that the island’s tourism industry went into decline towards the end of 2008, leaving question marks over just how bad this year might be for hotel and leisure operators.
The recession hasn’t come at a good time for Malta. The island’s tourist numbers had been in decline for some time and was in danger of becoming a niche travel destination before budget airlines turned the tide for Malta, and the number of holidaymakers has increased each year over the last three years, a decline now would be disappointing after so much progress.
What will make 2009 so disappointing if the tourist arrival numbers do drop is that last year was the best ever for Malta, even with the recession starting with a few months still to go for people taking Malta holidays. Overall Malta saw nearly four per cent more holidaymakers than the previous year – which in itself was a good one.
The first month for tourist arivals to drop was in September, the pound for British tourists was low against the Euro and the recession was starting to hit the UK – but with a dip of less than three per cent year on year it wasn’t significant enough in itself to worry about.
Alarm bells really have begun to ring though with news that for October the drop was nearly ten per cent compared to the previous year – and if there was any doubt that this could be quickly reversible as the November and December tourist numbers were both in excess of a ten per cent drop.
So bad is the drop in the number of people taking Malta holidays and flights to Malta that some analysts have already written 2009 off as a year that will see a sharp decline.
Hotels in Malta are being urged to reduce prices for longer than normal stays and to offer free nights when bookings are made to encourage holidaymakers to stay on the island – and spend money locally of course, to help the Maltese economy take on the recession.