Decision to reopen airport welcomed by travel agents, but concerns raised over tourism corridors

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The government’s decision to lift the travel ban is welcomed by the Federated Association of Travel and Tourism Agents Malta (FATTA), however there are a number of limitations and restrictions that come with the selection of countries which Malta will be sharing flights with, President Iain Tonna told The Malta Independent.

On Monday, Prime Minister Robert Abela, alongside the Superintendent of Public Health and Health Minister Chris Fearne, announced that the Malta International Airport (MIA) will be reopening on 1 July after being shut down at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic in Malta.

The Malta Independent spoke with FATTA President Tonna, who expressed his opinion and concerns on this decision.

“We welcome this measure and we are pleased that the authorities feel comfortable with the decision to relax the restrictions. However, we do need to understand in more detail the reciprocal restrictions in place for the 19 destinations that will share flights with Malta,” Tonna said.

During Monday’s press conference, the PM said that these 19 destinations are; Italy (Sardinia and Sicily only), Iceland, Slovakia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Israel, Latvia, Norway, Switzerland, Estonia, Denmark, Hungary, Austria, Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic, Finland and Ireland.

It was, however, reported that some of these countries still have restrictions in place which would make it impossible to travel to and from these areas anyway.

“From the information that was reported, a lot of these countries concern Malta differently,” Tonna said. “Some of them require a mandatory quarantine from their end, others do not have Malta listed in their tourism corridors and certain countries have not lifted their travel ban; like Israel and Denmark. This is quite concerning as it seems that only Sicily is a safe option right now.”

The 14 Day Cumulative Index for Europe also shows that Malta has opened its doors to a number of Group B (medium risk) countries, like Italy and Denmark, while leaving out certain Group A (low risk) countries, such as Slovenia, Slovakia and Croatia which have the lowest ranking.

Asked if FATTA was consulted by the government on the reopening of the airport, Tonna said that the association was informed but not consulted, however, it never expected to be. “Our position was always that we have confidence in the judgement of the government and the health authorities and that they will reopen the airport when they feel it is safe to do so.”

He said that under normal circumstances the government would have asked for their input with regards to ideal source markets, however, the health conditions did not permit them to do so this time round. For example, the UK is one of the main source markets for Malta but it is impossible to open flights there with its current statistics, which puts it in Group C (high risk) in the 14 Day Cumulative Index for Europe, he said.

This newsroom also asked if agencies which are members of FATTA are mulling over prevention measures, like limiting the number of people for group excursions.

Tonna said that the authority is working on submitting some suggestions to the MTA with regards to the in between stages of hospitality like airport transfers, excursions or sightseeing; “the rest is all in line with protocols that the MTA has already put in place for the hospitality sector.”

He added that these suggestions are being based on the three key principles of social distancing, hygiene and the use of masks, and they are aimed to provide safe yet practical solutions. “Our main objective is to see what we can work with considering the situation, and see what we can extract from the season ahead.”

At the moment the association is consulting with its members to see what their needs are while taking into consideration what other countries are doing in this regard.

Tonna said that FATTA is expecting to submit its suggestions to the MTA next week.