A Facebook group for travel agents and tour operators, a fam trip in May, a Celine Dion concert in July, an exclusive Cirque du Soleil show, and a Christmas Fairyland are among this year’s initiatives for Malta revealed by Tolene van der Merwe, Director – UK & Ireland, Malta Tourism Authority, in an interview with ITTN’s Neil Steedman.
Visitor numbers from Ireland to Malta for January – November 2019 increased by 29.4% to 50,696, compared to 39,182 in 2018 and 34,402 in 2017. This was assisted by twice-weekly Ryanair flights from Cork – and from 26 March this year the airline will operate daily from Dublin.
Where do you see growth from the Irish market – apart from the extra seat capacity?
We see growth coming from the 45 upwards market. The flight capacity has been great and the addition of Cork last year pushed us up over the 50,000 mark for the first 11 months of 2019. We are also trying to change the perceptions of Malta from the older generation to bring up the younger generation, the city breakers, long weekends, and I think we can grow that market now that we have daily flights a week out of Dublin – and we are really looking forward to the potential that that is going to open up for us.
The 24-44-year-old visitor numbers have gone up by 12%, but we still want the older generation to come because Malta has so much offer – and it is not just a one-time visit destination. Malta’s beautiful architecture, the history and culture, adventure activities such as scuba diving, our gastronomy, and the festival scene – not just for youngsters but also the baroque festivals – have really put us on the map.
The LGBT+ sector is also very important to us. It keeps growing and we were No 1 on Rainbow index. Being the small island that we are, Malta has really had to think had to keep 10 steps ahead of every other destination in how we do things so we are heavily focused on the LGBT+ market, with always something happening.
The LGBT+ market is just one of the many sectors that come to Malta. We can offer everyone anything and everything that they want to explore! For example, there are tour operators and guides who can specialise in art tours. That is a bit more niche but it is definitely there – and can be combined with architecture to spend a day in Valletta, where there are lots of hidden gems all around.
Is Malta a Year-Round Destination?
Yes, first of all Malta has 300 days of sunshine – temperatures may vary but currently, in January, it is 17 degrees, way better than anywhere else in the Mediterranean – and Malta is amazing in the spring when the flowers bloom.
We have beautiful beaches – despite what some people may perceive – and for any time from April through to October they are amazing.
There is always something happening and there are festivals, carnivals and events 365 days of the year! We create videos that showcase what events are coming up in the next quarter.
2020 is set to be a big year for Malta with a variety of events set to take place throughout the year. These include the famous Carnival in Malta & Gozo (21st – 25th February), St Patrick’s Day, which is a fantastic celebration in Malta with a great festive atmosphere (17th March), the Malta International Fireworks Festival (18th – 30th April) and the Annie Mac Lost and Found Festival (30th April – 3rd May).
Isle of MTV Malta is an annual music festival held in Floriana, for which the 2020 dates have yet to be announced. Individual well-known artists also come – such as Celine Dion in July!
Cirque du Soleil has a three-year agreement with us for a new show, Vitori, that is specifically designed for Malta from November to January each year. Also last December, a spectacular Fairyland Malta festival took place in Tritons’ Square, Valletta, complete with Santa’s Grotto, a 900 sq m ice rink, a carousel, train ride and big wheel, while the first original Austrian-German Christmas Market was held at the Labranda Riviera Hotel & Spa in Mellieħa – and I am sure that these will grow over the years.
So, for such a small island we are really punching way above our weight!
Malta has an interesting and varied cuisine. Will you be promoting this?
Yes, food and gastronomy will be a big focus for us this year. We will know by the end of February which restaurant is going to be Michelin starred. Also, Heritage Malta offers interesting tasting experiences, ‘Taste History’, in the actual venues where Inquistors, Corsairs, Knights and Libertines enjoyed various food treats and where chefs prepare culinary delights from a bygone era and give the history around the recipes.
How popular are Gozo and Comino?
You can base yourself in Malta and go across to Gozo for the day, or Comino for the day. You can also stay in Gozo, in beautiful farm accommodations, for doing walking tours, diving, quad biking, horse riding, etc. A lot of the trade combine Malta and Gozo, and we promote Comino as a general day trip.
Are Irish travel agents selling Malta enough?
Not as much as we would hope! In some cases their perception of Malta could be better, so we will be offering a lot more training, including for travel agencies in rural areas. We also have our online programme, www.malta-training.com, which we designed ourselves.
In the next couple of weeks we will introduce a Facebook group for travel agents and tour operators, to share information on Malta, and we will be doing a lot of PR through Plunkett Communications.
We will be taking part in the Travel Industry Spring Roadshow to Galway, Waterford and Cork from 23-25 March. There will also be a fam trip in May and an Academy in Malta in November (after World Travel Market!).
Our big message to the trade is that if there is anything you need from us, just get in touch – and you will be seeing a lot more of Malta this year!