Aircraft loading passengers against a sunrise

Tourism stakeholders are reporting a “very positive” outlook for the year, following a record-breaking first quarter that got 2023 off to a good start for the sector.

Earlier this month, Malta International Airport reported its busiest-ever first three months of the year, with March seeing more passenger traffic and a higher seat load factor than that seen in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year.

“It’s going to be a good year,” Alan Arrigo, co-CEO of destination management company Robert Arrigo & Sons, tells BusinessNow.mt. “The air seat capacity is there – it’s at about 90 per cent of 2019’s capacity – and there’s always a very significant correlation between airline seats and hotel occupancy. So yes, we are expecting very high occupancy this summer.”

Mr Arrigo, who chairs The Malta Chamber’s tourism sub-committee, says that group and student bookings are making a strong comeback, contributing to the overall figures.

“These kinds of bookings also tend to come in a bit earlier than other segments. This is likely to have an effect on the timing of other bookings too, since they will see that occupancy is already high.

Philip Fenech, deputy president and head of tourism affairs at the Chamber of SMEs, says that “expectations are extremely high in the various sectors of our tourism economy”.

“All the segments are reporting improved results,” he continues. “The first quarter of the year, which is usually a quieter quarter, is a strong indicator of how things are moving. In fact, we are not only reaching but superseding expectations.”

President of the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association Tony Zahra agreed that “Q2 looks extremely promising. The year is panning out well.”

He said that hotels are reporting much earlier reservations, reversing the prevailing trend for short-notice bookings last year.

Asked whether the industry is still facing a severe staff of staff, Mr Zahra explains that the situation in 2023 is much better than it was in 2022.

“Last year, when we re-opened, we went from zero business to nearly full demand in four or so weeks, and the result was staffing shortages. Thankfully, staffing is not as big an issue as it was last year.

BusinessNow.mt also reached out to two hoteliers, both of whom expressed an optimistic outlook for the year.

AX Hotels director of sales Andy Tanti corroborated the lobbies’ statements, saying the group is “observing a solid recovery over the coming months, with strong last-minute pick-up and firm group forecasts throughout the year.”

“These augur well for stronger performance compared to the previous year.”

He added that the average lead time has indeed increased when compared to previous years, adding also that last-minute demand is still strong, “which will undoubtedly help drive higher occupancy and rates”.

Plaza Hotels general manager Lino Cremona described the outlook for 2023 as “really, really good”, noting that reservations are coming in much earlier this year.

“After COVID, bookings tended to be very last-minute. People now seem to be more secure, more certain – they have left the pandemic behind them are ready to finally move forward,” he said.

Another sign of the strong recovery, he said, is the resurging popularity of non-refundable bookings.

“With COVID, these had disappeared for a while. People didn’t like to book on a non-refundable basis without knowing what was going to happen. Now, people are once again willing to exchange their chance for a refund for a discount, so this is a strong indication of what people are thinking.”

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