Tourism plays a vital role when it comes to Malta’s identity, providing countless jobs and supporting local businesses and communities. The first quarter of 2023 has shown a significant increase in the number of passengers arriving in Malta compared to the same period in 2019.

However, this has not only happened in Malta. Tourist nights across the EU have grown in Q1 2023 when compared to Q1 2019. Some Mediterranean countries we compete with had percentage increases much greater than Malta’s when comparing tourists’ nights in Q1 2023 to Q1 2019.

In a recent article penned by Clayton Bartolo in the Times of Malta (May 14), entitled ‘Like with like. I like’, the tourism minister made a direct comparison of the expenditure by tourists in Q1 2019 to that of Q1 2023.

In doing so he stated: “Total expenditure increased from €272 million to €312 million. That’s €40 million more injected into our economy, an increase of 14.7 per cent over the all-time record of 2019. Bolstering these figures is yet another very significant one: expenditure per night shot up from €97 to €108, an increase of 10.5 per cent compared to the same period in 2019.”

That is not a ‘like with like’ comparison at all. This comparison does not take into consideration the impact of inflation on the value of money over time. The increasing prices of goods and services in Malta means that the expenditure in 2023 may not be worth the same as it was in 2019.

While it is true per capita and per night spend of tourists in Malta did increase from €97 in Q1 2019 to €108 in Q1 2023, when the per capita and per night expenditure is adjusted to include the inflationary effects experienced between Q1 2019 and Q1 2023, the real per capita and per night spend in Q1 2023 actually works out to €95 in real terms, which is less than the per capita and per night spend in Q1 2019.

This means that, though the number of tourists may have increased, their spending power has decreased in real terms.

Furthermore, the composition of connected source markets has also changed, with fewer flights from the UK in 2023 compared to 2019, and the cost of flights has increased considerably. This means that comparing the first quarter of 2023 to the same period in 2019 may not give a true picture of the situation.

It is crucial that all stakeholders in the tourism ecosystem level up and offer quality experiences

Future investors and tourism operators may be misled by headline figures and need to take into account the changing composition of tourists and the increased costs of flights and other services.

While initial analysis shows a positive trend in the number of tourists arriving in Malta in the first quarter of 2023, it’s important to understand the full extent of the impact and take into account the changing economic landscape. The government and the tourism industry need to continue investing in infrastructure and marketing efforts to attract more tourists and remain competitive in the market.

As we analyse the Q1 tourism figures in Malta for 2023 compared to 2019, it is important to remember that the current reality for the tourism industry is vastly different to what it was in 2019. While we may see an increase in the number of tourists, it is crucial that all stakeholders within the tourism ecosystem level up and offer quality experiences.

The Malta Chamber’s ‘Rediscover’ document highlights this need, calling for all tourism-related businesses to adapt and improve in order to meet the demands of the current reality. Failure to do so may result in memorable bad experiences for tourists, leading to a drive down of prices and an increase in overtourism in order to make up for the shortfall.

It is essential that we take these issues into consideration as we move forward in our efforts to rebuild and strengthen Malta’s tourism industry.

Silvan Mifsud and Alan Arrigo are council members of The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry.

Independent journalism costs money. Support Times of Malta for the price of a coffee.

Support Us