Air Malta has had over 6,000 flight bookings cancelled since new travel rules were announced on Friday.

A spokesperson for the airline told Times of Malta it had received “a significant number of cancellations on the majority of its routes” for travel during July and August following the announcement of a change in travel requirements, with new bookings for the rest of the summer season stalling.

“While there are a number of people each day who are declined travel due to incorrect travel documentation, the current situation is primarily being driven by large scale cancellations of intended travel in the month of July, with over 6,000 bookings cancelled already since Friday, July 9,” the spokesperson said.

“In addition, new bookings for travel in August have ceased and the number of people failing to turn up to travel as booked has increased dramatically. This has occurred across all 19 markets Air Malta operates to.”

He added that call centres had been “inundated” with calls from customers seeking clarification on the new rules, with many inevitably cancelling their booking.

“Call volumes have nearly tripled on what would normally be expected since Friday,” he said.

The market is in dire straits

Asked whether the airline was considering cancelling flights due to the situation, the spokesperson said, so far, no flights have been cancelled but this remains a possibility if business continues at a slow pace.

“At this stage, no flight cancellations have been enacted. However, we will be monitoring closely the ongoing trends and effects of these volumes of cancellations and slow-down in booking activity and may adjust our network operations accordingly,” he said.

Loss of 30,000 bed nights

Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association president Tony Zahra said that hoteliers were highly dependent on air passenger traffic with every visitor to Malta generally staying an average of seven nights.

He said some 70 per cent of tourists stayed in hotels during their visit.

He added that the loss of 6,000 flight bookings likely translated into a loss of just under 30,000 bed nights and 15,000 room nights for hoteliers. A room night is the number of occupied rooms on any given night while a bed night reflects the number of people occupying a room.

Meanwhile, short-let operators who spoke to Times of Malta also experienced an uptick in cancellations.

Matthew Vella, who operates a short-let property with his sister, said he lost two bookings valued at over €1,000 each while Dani Cassar said she lost five bookings valued in total at around €1,500 since Friday.

He said he was frustrated and disappointed that the authorities made a “panicked decision”, changing restrictions over a short period of time.

“We have known since day one that being vaccinated does not mean you cannot contract and spread COVID, however, a 14-day quarantine is not the middle ground for this situation,” he said.

“Most people do not have the luxury of accepting 14 days unpaid leave or a mandatory €1,400 room.

"We are refunding our clients, even though we are not obliged to do so, because we sympathise with the predicament they are in but there’s no sugarcoating it – the market is in dire straits.”

Similarly, Cassar said her property had been fully booked up but, since the announcement, the majority of her stays have been cancelled and future bookings are drying up.

“We have followed all the rules and previously did not have a problem, even as we mostly hosted students,” Cassar said.

“We’re really hoping for some support because right now the situation is like a rollercoaster and we have no idea what to expect.”

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