Malta is breaking records in tourist arrivals and also managing to attract better spending visitors, Tourism Minister Clayton Bartolo said in parliament on Monday.

Replying to what he described as negative criticism by the Opposition, he said that up to the end of September, Malta attracted 2.3 million tourists, which was 150,000 more than the record in 2019. Importantly, tourist spending in the first nine months of the year exceeded €2.1 billion compared to €1.8 billion in the same period in 2019.

By the end of October, spending by tourists would exceed the whole of 2019, he said. 

Malta and the broader EU have been impacted by record levels of price inflation from 2020 onwards. 

The minister said the authorities wanted to continue to attract better-spending tourists and improve service based on the principles of quality, authenticity and sustainability. The aim was to ensure that tourism was a year-round industry which attracted not just bucket and spade tourists but also those interested in sport, entertainment, religion, culture and sport, among other activities.

He said the authorities were managing to raise connectivity and the seat load factor of airlines. There would be 3.1 million airline seats available on the Malta routes this winter.

A long-term target was to attract more tourists from North America. Connections had improved through various airline hubs but talks were being held for direct flights between Malta and the United States. For that to happen, however, more Americans needed to be attracted to Malta.

Marketing partnership deals

Efforts were also being made to attract more Japanese tourists, who tended to travel more in winter, and also spend more. One way this was being done was through a marketing deal reached with Manchester United, he said.

A Malta Day had also been held at the football club's stadium Old Trafford, reaching a worldwide audience, he said. It would be repeated in January during a match against Tottenham.

This, and other partnership deals would continue to be maintained because of the returns they produced in terms of marketing exposure and bed nights, he said.

In the first six months of the year, 18,000 people visited Malta for sports events, yielding 120,000 bed nights. Thousands were also coming to Malta thanks to the wealth of concerts and other international entertainment events being held here, which added value to Malta’s tourism product. The Andre Rieu concert, for example, attracted tourists from 48 countries.  

Replying to points raised by the opposition, he said Malta would continue to have a national airline that would be a major contributor to the tourism sector. Malta would continue to have a mix of legacy and low-cost airlines.

Bartolo underlined the need to improve the tourism product, including the infrastructure, pointing to projects such as the revamp of Mellieħa Square and the promenade at Għadira. The latter, he said, would be concluded in the coming weeks after several technical problems were overcome.

Works on the belvedere at St Paul's Bay had been completed and works were planned at the squares in Buġibba and Vittoriosa, Birzebbuġa promenade, the facade at Ta' Liesse in Valletta, the fishermen's shed in St Julian's, the St Thomas Tower area in Marsascala, the Rabat core area and lighting of Naxxar church. 

The minister defended plans to introduce the skills pass scheme as a way to improve quality, saying it was unacceptable that frontliners could not communicate effectively with tourists. 

Cash rebates for film productions 'here to stay'

He also defended the film industry, saying a part-time industry was now a blooming into full-time one with a good future. He said he wanted to reiterate an appeal to the opposition not to play about with people's work through unfounded criticism. This industry offered opportunities for everyone, and the government was determined that the sector would continue to offer more careers.

Under the PN there used to be 300 part-timers in the sector, now there were 1,400 working there, most of them full-time. He said that following the actors' strike in the US, filming of Gladiator would resume at the end of November/early December making use mostly of Maltese crews.

Cash rebates, he said, were given only on funds spent in Malta. The cash rebate scheme, he insisted, was 'here to stay' and all government commitment would be honoured.

He tabled an 'abridged' version of an investigative report into spending in the scheme and said the full report had been handed to the auditor-general, because he was the one who could be trusted.

Bartolo said work was made on 37 film productions this year making it a record.

Concluding, Bartolo said the outlook for tourism next year were very rosy, with double-digit growth expected in the first three months. The government would not rest on its laurels and would invest more in marketing and the opening of representative offices abroad.

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