Over three million tourists visited Malta in 2023, the first time this milestone has been hit, tourism authorities said on Monday.

This was over 8% higher than the previous record high in 2019, when almost 2.8m visitors travelled to Malta, before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the industry crashing to a halt.

“In the past we took decades to reach 2019 levels, now it took less than three years to surpass these levels, a year less than what was originally planned”, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said.

“We have managed to diversify markets, spread the age distribution of visitors, as well as widen the spectrum of why tourists visit Malta”, he added.

According tot he Malta Tourism Authority, 3,002,823 tourists visited Malta last year. That figure differs from the 2,975,670 visitors recorded by the National Statistics Office.

The discrepancy is due to NSO figures not tracking cruise liner passengers who spend the night in Malta, MTA representatives told Times of Malta.

Data presented by the MTA suggests Malta’s recovery from the pandemic has eclipsed that of most other Mediterranean countries.

While the global tourism count still trails pre-pandemic figures, at 88% of what it was back in 2019, travel to Europe’s Mediterranean countries is now 1% higher than it was five years ago, lower than Malta’s 8% increase.

Tourists spent €132 each day, Italy tops the charts

According to MTA, tourists spent a total of €2.7b in Malta throughout 2023, with each tourist spending the equivalent of €132 each day.

This total expenditure was a fifth higher than it was in 2019.

2023 was also the first year on record during which British tourists did not top the list of visitors, having been pipped to the post by Italian visitors.

Almost 40% of all incoming tourists came from either Italy or the UK, with French and German tourists also performing well.

Nonetheless, the overall number of British tourists has dipped by some 17% since 2019, with authorities hoping to see the UK market recover in the coming years.

Polish tourists, on the other hand, have shot up by 60%, with over 167,000 Poles visiting Malta last year.

Minister eyeing long-haul visitors

Addressing industry insiders, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said that the country’s “next step” is to target long-haul visitors.

Rattling off a list of countries, including Japan, USA, Australia and the Gulf countries, Bartolo said that “talks are underway” with operators to make Malta a viable option for travellers from these regions.

Data shows that 55,000 tourists visited Malta from the USA in 2023, with a further 53,000 from Australia. However, both registered under 2% of Malta’s total tourist arrivals, virtually unchanged since 2019.

Bartolo admitted that Malta's tourism numbers place "great responsibility" on the government, the public and industry operators, saying that the quality of service needs to be improved to attract higher-quality tourists.

"Quality and quantity need to walk hand-in-hand," he said, describing a reform requiring third-country nationals working in the sector to obtain a skills card as "one of the boldest moves in the industry’s history" that will take the industry "a notch higher".

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