Malta’s “haphazard travel restrictions” have played a major role in slowing the recovery of the tourism industry, airport CEO Alan Borg has insisted.

Borg made his comments after public health chief Charmaine Gauci told Times of Malta the stringent restrictions are not the only reason for the low tourism numbers Malta has registered since the start of the pandemic.

She did not say what these other issues are. But she makes the argument that tourists are actually more likely to travel to the island because they feel safe coming to a place with strict COVID-19 rules in place.

Malta’s entry restrictions made international headlines for all the wrong reasons- Malta International Airport CEO Alan Borg

However, the airport CEO is adamant the strict rules are behind the abysmal figures, leading to the worst tourism recovery rates in the Southern Mediterranean region.

“The haphazard travel restrictions introduced locally have, undoubtedly, played a major part in the airport’s slow recovery due to the heavy blow they have dealt to consumer confidence,” Borg said.

Travel plans disrupted

“As Malta’s entry restrictions made international headlines for all the wrong reasons, uncertainty disrupted travel plans and caused both locals and foreigners to remain hesitant to make travel arrangements far in advance, which remains the case to this day. 

“By continuing to resist measures aimed at aligning restrictions across Europe, the Superintendent of Public Health is placing Malta at a significant disadvantage when compared to other European destinations,” Borg told Times of Malta.

The health authorities continue to enforce quarantine upon arrival for those who are unvaccinated. Unlike other EU countries, they refuse to recognise recovery certificates or negative test results.

Health Minister Chris Fearne has said the authorities are looking into revising these rules, although he did not say when this might happen and how it would work.

For Borg, it needs to happen soon, especially since “fiercer destination competition is expected in the upcoming summer season. We continue to urge the health authorities to lift our country’s COVID-19 travel restrictions, which go against the spirit of the European Union to facilitate free movement across all European member states,” Borg said.

Other countries plan to lift restrictions

The latest figures by the Airports Council International show that, at 33.5 per cent, Malta’s recovery between January and November 2021 lagged behind that of other Southern European countries like Greece (52.5 per cent), Cyprus (44.3 per cent), Spain (41.7 per cent) and Portugal (40.3 per cent).

Sources in the industry said that although there may be other reasons for tourists staying away, the island needs to address the issue of COVID rules before being in a position to identify other problems.

“We cannot even begin to identify other issues when we are still at a disadvantage when it comes to the restrictions,” one source said, noting that tourists are increasingly opting to travel to countries where the disruptions because of COVID-19 rules are minimal.

In recent weeks, a number of countries, including Hungary, Ireland, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Romania, Switzerland and the UK, have said they will lift COVID-19 travel restrictions by the end of March.

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