Malta is broadening its tourism products to try to win back missing visitors. The island has been hit by a fall in leisure and business visitors this year and new products are seen as the way to return to the growth path.
The decline in visitors to Malta and its sister islands of Gozo and Comino this year has been about 8%, according to Josef Christiano, sales manager of incoming agency SMS. "We can be happy with that. If it hadn't been for the many last-minute sales, the deficit would have been even larger." German tour operators aim to reverse this summer's decline with price cuts for the winter ranging from 4.5% to 8%. Neckermann reported a single-digit drop for summer 2003 and aims for a slight plus this winter. TUI said it did not expect any upturn this winter from the weak summer market. ITS and Jahn Reisen said they had had growth this summer and expected stable winter business, while FTI admitted "a clear reserved bookings pattern". The wishlist of German operators includes more all-inclusive properties, more three-star hotels, and urgent road improvements.
Hotels expand wellness and spa facilities
Hoteliers on Malta have now also discovered the wellness trend and are expanding facilities for this niche market. The four-star Hotel Fortina, for instance, is building the world’s first "spa rooms" with therapeutic baths in each of the 50 sqm suites. Wellness and spa facilities also feature strongly at the five-star Ta'Cenc hotel on Gozo, with 83 bungalows and some 160 hectares of land which include the remains of a megalithic temple and 140m high cliffs. The Kempinski San Lawrenz on Gozo has also successfully established itself in the spa segment. General manager Rupert Simoner said the hotel had improved its yields by 18% compared to last year but admitted bookings were coming at ever shorter notice. "It's now normal to get enquiries on a Wednesday for the following weekend," he says. He hopes for a recovery in the German market, which generates 30% of hotel guests. A more traditional mix between business and leisure guests is the strategy at the four-star The Victoria in the up-market Sliema district. "We are compensating for the fall in bookings from tour operators with business travellers," says acting general manager Claire Xuereb. The luxury hotel is currently being renovated and expanded with 100 new rooms due for completion in 2005.
English classes and cruises
New source markets are emerging for English courses, one of the most profitable markets for Malta in recent years. About 25% of Malta's 1.1 million annual visitors visits the island to improve his or her English. While the number of Germans wanting to improve their English on Malta is steadily falling, more and more eastern Europeans are signing up for courses at one of the 30 language schools. The internet is playing a vital role in helping the schools to market themselves around the world, says Louiseanne Mercieca, sales and marketing manager of the English Language Academy. "We get 35% of our bookings from it," she says. A wide range of courses, including for managers, lawyers, bankers and doctors, has emerged.
Another new market is set to emerge over the next few years. Malta hopes to develop into a new hub for Mediterranean cruises with the completion of its new cruise terminal in two years' time. With EU entry due in May 2004, the island could then market its central location as a starting point for cruises through the Mediterranean.