The arrival of low-cost airlines, aggressive pricing and improved cruise facilities are paying dividends for Malta. Dinah Hatch reports

Malta has long been seen as an island for retirees and divers; a solid, dependable destination with a nice sideline in scuba hotspots.

But times have been changing on this Mediterranean island and a number of factors are now altering the tourism landscape.

Ryanair’s introduction of flights from London and Dublin in 2006 mixed things up in Malta, bringing it to the attention of budget-conscious sunseekers young and old. And for the first six months of 2008, the low-cost airline reported inbound passenger numbers for Malta up 100% year on year at 95,917.

Meanwhile, Air Malta, which has been waging an aggressive marketing campaign with low lead-in prices from the UK, has reported UK arrivals up 4% in 2008.

Malta Tourism Authority director UK and Ireland Chris Fenech said: “Low-cost airlines, along with national carrier Air Malta, have been fundamental in turning the tide for Malta’s tourism. Their entry in autumn 2006 came at a time when the traditional operator package market in Malta was on the decline.”

He added: “This year promises to be another positive one with regards to low-cost airlines, with the recent announcement that easyJet will operate a Newcastle-Malta route and Ryanair operating Bristol-Malta and Edinburgh-Malta.”

Syncing nicely with the MTA’s determination to alter perceptions of the island and attract a younger crowd, the British music festival Creamfields will this year be hosted at Rabat on June 27.

The event should open the eyes of a new generation to the charms of Malta, which already hosts the annual Isle of MTV concert.

Added Fenech: “As a marketing strategy we also target specialised operators for activity holidays, spa holidays and also event/concert travel – all areas where Malta offers a great year-round product at very affordable prices.”

The island, which recently won the Destination of the Year award at the Seatrade Insider Cruise Awards 2008, is also fast becoming a significant port of call for cruise operators.

The number of cruise passengers next year is expected to increase by about 12%, according to tourism parliamentary secretary Mario de Marco, helped by a substantial investment in the Valletta Waterfront Harbour project.

Half a million cruise passengers spent time in Malta between January and November last year and together the MTA, Malta’s international airport and the Valletta waterfront cruise terminal operator Viset are investing €400,000 to promote Malta as a cruise-and-stay destination to entice passengers to stay in Malta or Gozo for one or more nights.

Fenech said: “The cruise-and-stay element in Malta is still in its infancy. However, the full day usually spent here by most visitors on cruises to the islands is an ideal way for us to give them a taster and entice them to visit once more on holiday.”

The government also plans to invest in Boiler Wharf in Senglea, which will become a cruiseliner quay, and has commissioned a study to consider creating a cruise terminal in Marsamxett. sales and marketing director Paul Riches believes the arrival of Ryanair and the island’s determination to alter perceptions of who holidays in Malta is paying dividends.

He said: “Malta is getting a bigger share of the dynamic packaging market now than it would have done a few years ago and that’s down to Ryanair and Air Malta. The perception of the island is changing and that, combined with good, well-priced flight availability, is making a difference.

“Once you are linked by a no-frills airline, you are on everyone’s radar. People search the web for holidays and flights by price and if Malta comes up on a search for a low-cost flight, they are going to consider it, perhaps for the first time.”

Riches believes the economic slowdown might also benefit the island. “If people are starting to shy away from long-haul destinations because of price, then they may start looking at places such as Malta, Tunisia and Egypt as alternatives to the short-haul destinations that they have been to many times before.” chief executive Paul Evans also believes Air Malta’s strategies are helping the island attract a wider visitor base but adds that the bedstock on the island has had a hand in matters too.

He said: “Our Malta sales are well up by 35%. The investment the island has made in upgrading its hotels has helped enormously and with low-cost airlines coming in and a more aggressive Air Malta, the market has been stimulated as a whole.”

New developments in Malta

  • EasyJet starts twice-weekly flights from Newcastle to Malta in April.
  • Ryanair introduces flights from Edinburgh and Bristol in March and July respectively, both twice weekly.
  • New operators selling Malta for 2009 include Green Island Holidays, Discovery Collection, Vintage Travel, Olympic Holidays, Sweet Chariot, Travel for the Arts and Sunisle Holidays.

Sample product offers seven nights’ self-catering for a family of four in a one-bedroom apartment at the three-star Cardor Holiday Complex in Qawra for £540 departing June 2 from Gatwick. offers seven nights at the four-star Soreda Hotel in Qawra from £215 for a double room in mid-June (or £108 per person), including breakfast. The price does not include flights.