Pace of new bookings by Maltese slowed down drastically – travel agents association

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Last Updated on Tuesday, 27 July, 2021 at 1:17 pm by Andre Camilleri

The government’s decision to introduce travel restrictions a few weeks ago, in addition to other issues, have led to a number of locals cancelling their trips abroad, the Federated Association of Travel and Tourism Agents (FATTA) said, while the pace of new bookings has also slowed down drastically.

In June, Malta opened up for tourism, allowing tourists who are both fully vaccinated and unvaccinated to enter the country. However, Malta then began to see an increase in positive Covid-19 cases in July. As a result, new rules came into effect on 14 July, only allowing people with a recognised vaccination certificate to enter the country without the need to quarantine.

The Malta Independent contactedFATTA President Iain Tonna to better understand the effects of this decision on locals travelling abroad and cancellations.

He noted that the reason for cancellations might not only be due to travel restrictions, but may also be due to other reasons as well.

Under the current travel restrictions, all unvaccinated people must quarantine for 14 days upon arrival. This new restriction might also pose a problem for families whose children are still in the process of getting inoculated but would not be in time for their vacation.

Tonna explained that families in this situation chose to either cancel their holiday or postpone it to a later date when their children are fully vaccinated in order to avoid mandatory quarantine upon arrival.

At the beginning of the summer season, a positive trend in bookings was noted.

“The response from the public was probably even slightly better than we were expecting,” Tonna said.

“We cannot be certain that the cancellations happened due to the new travel restrictions alone. We believe that this happened because of an array of reasons, including the increase in active Covid-19 cases in recent weeks as well as the scepticism and fear felt by people to travel.” 

As of 26 July, the number of Covid-19 active cases stands at 2,262. This number dropped slightly as 94 new cases were registered and 126 people recovered.

Air Malta had said that booking activity from the local Maltese market had not previously kicked in and currently shows no sign of doing so.

The travel agents’ association was asked whether they felt the same way with regards to the response of people residing in Malta travelling abroad. 

In reply, Tonna highlighted that “the response and interest to travel from the public was quite positive and better than we expected. However, many people still left it to the last minute to book, therefore the fear and scepticism to travel is still present.”

“Initially we thought that the response from the public to travel following the opening up of tourism would be better than our expectations. The increase in positive Covid-19 cases did not help as we’re now estimating that the number of locals travelling abroad in the summer season will probably be worse than last year,” Tonna said.

Asked whether the association is concerned, Tonna remarked that people are being very cautious when it comes to travel. “It is very difficult to predict which way the situation will go as this all depends on the number of active cases as well as the perception of the public.”

He added that although the number of active cases increased, one was focusing more on hospitalisation and mortality rates. Unfortunately, in recent days this has changed as the number of Covid patients who are being treated at Mater Dei Hospital increased from 19 to 39 patients in two days.

“We are currently waiting to see what will happen in the next few days in order to determine whether this is a one-off trend or whether the Covid numbers will start increasing again, even in terms of hospitalisations, as this will then become a problem,” Tonna said.

Speaking about the overcrowding at the Malta International Airport, which was caused due to passengers having to wait as long as two to three hours to get through the terminal, Tonna said that this situation has now been addressed.

Minister for Tourism Clayton Bartolo had said that the airport would have a three-fold increase in the number of desks and people working to reduce this overcrowding.  

“Although the situation hasn’t been resolved completely, it is being addressed. Unfortuantely, some might still have the perception that the situation is still not under control and fear spending such a long time in a closed off area,” Tonna said.

With regard to the Seniors’ Market, Tonna said that this age group remains cautious to travel as they adopted the ‘we will wait and see’ approach. 

Meanwhile, the majority of locals who are travelling seem to be heading to countries which are close to home.

Tonna noted that “countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy are experiencing a demand. Sicily is also another destination that locals seem to be leaning towards as many opt to use their own vehicle to travel, thus having better control over who they come in contact with.”

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