The number of passengers travelling through Malta International Airport improved considerably last year over 2020 but remained well down on the pre-COVID figures of 2019, official statistics show.
Progress was stalled by the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 in the last two months of last year, MIA said on Tuesday.
The consequences of the new variant have spilled over to this year, with some 850 flights cancelled for the first quarter of this year.
A total of 2.5 million passengers travelled last year, an increase of 45.3 per cent over 2020.
But MIA said that marked a recovery of just 34.8 per cent of 2019 passenger numbers.
The top drivers of traffic for 2021 were Italy and the United Kingdom, both of which enjoyed a 19 per cent market share, followed by Germany, France and Poland.
Air travel started to gain momentum in the second half of the year on the back of increased stability and an improvement in consumer confidence, with passenger movements for the third quarter of 2021 more than tripling over the previous quarter.
October, which saw Southern European airports register improved passenger traffic results, was Malta International Airport’s best-performing month with more than 428,000 passenger movements recorded
"This can be attributed to a delayed peak in the demand for leisure travel spurred by the easing of travel requirements as the year progressed, up until the emergence of a new virus strain in November 2021.
“The instant impact on air travel of the introduction of tighter restrictions towards the end of the year, once again highlighted that our industry’s recovery remains at the mercy of how governments respond to the changing epidemiological situation.
"The introduction of stricter and uneven entry requirements across Europe at the end of 2021 has already led to the cancellation of around 850 flights for the first quarter of 2022,” said MIA CEO Alan Borg.
He said that summer 2022 is expected to be characterised by fiercer competition among similar destinations, particularly as vaccination uptake across Europe continues to increase.
While recognising the local authorities’ efforts in putting Malta in the lead in relation to vaccination coverage, Borg urged the government to shift its focus on publishing a post-COVID strategy, which would give the industry confidence to invest in businesses, thus contributing to an enhanced tourism offering and increasing the island’s competitive edge.
On the other hand, by aligning Malta’s entry requirements to EU regulations, the government would be instilling confidence in travellers to book their next trip.
MIA said data released by Airports Council International showed that at 33.5 per cent, Malta’s recovery for the period between January and November 2021 still lagged behind that of Southern European peers such as Greece (52.5 per cent), Cyprus (44.3 per cent), Spain (41.7 per cent), and Portugal (40.3 per cent), despite despite Malta International Airport’s success in retaining more than 70 per cent of its connections for 2019 throughout the year under review.
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