As COVID-19 restrictions lifted, cruise liners set sail once again across the world in 2022. That year, Malta saw a total of 489,571 passengers, amounting to 64 per cent of 2019 passenger levels (765,696).

Data provided by the National Statistics Office (NSO) shows the diverse range of nationalities which passengers belong to, and, comparing the datasets between the two years provides some interesting insights.

In 2019, the top three countries where passengers arrived in Malta from via cruises were Germany (141,564), the UK (123,088) and the USA (115,658). Collectively they represented just under half of all passengers received that year.

Meanwhile, 2022 only saw one country represented with more than 100,000 passengers. That year the top three sources of passengers were from the UK (108,804), Germany (94,020) and Italy (89,810). The USA dropped down to fourth place with 49,172.

Effects of the Russian invasion of Ukraine

Since the invasion started in Ukraine, there was a noticeable relative drop of arrivals from both those countries. Compared to 2019, passengers from Russia dropped by over 90 per cent from 8,515 to 597. Similarly, arrivals from Belarus dropped to 89 from 379. Meanwhile, passengers from Ukraine dropped by slightly more than half, from 2,582 to 1,197.

The sharp drop in arrivals from Russia and Belarus may in part be due to the sanctions Ukraine’s allies have implemented both on the countries’ businesses and oligarchs, many of whom may no longer be able to travel at liberty to a number of jurisdictions.

Strict COVID-19 policy hangovers

During most of 2022, China maintained strict border controls to minimise COVID-19 while the rest of the world learnt to live with it. It is no surprise that the number of Chinese passengers dropped by over 80 per cent from 8,359 to 1,643 as a result.

Hong Kong also had similarly restrictive policies, which resulted in more than an 95 per cent drop of passengers from the special administrative region, with numbers plummeting down to a mere 72 passengers from 2,432.

There was also a strong decline in passengers from Oceania. Australia, home to many second and third generation Maltese, saw the number of passengers from that country to Malta drop by nearly 90 per cent from 25,526 to 2,658. Similarly there was a drop from New Zealand, which saw the the number of passengers declined to just 313 from 3,953.  

North and South Korea?

An unusual statistical point is found in reference to the number of passengers from North and South Korea. While in 2019 visitors from South Korea were well above those from North Korea (1,790 vs 161), in 2022, the number of visitors from South Korea plummeted to just 18 (a 99 per cent drop), and the number of visitors from North Korea more than doubled to 403.

What to expect in 2023

While it is hard to predict what may be the outcome of how many and where from cruise passengers in Malta arrive in 2023, it is possible that the numbers are expected to increase as the tourism industry continues to recover.

Since all countries started the year without, or with the bare minimum number of COVID-19 related travel restrictions, there may be an uptick in demand from countries which were left behind in 2022. However, the war will still loom in the background so it is unlikely that the number of visitors from the heavily sanctioned countries will increase in any remarkable way.


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