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Last Updated: Friday, 30 March 2007, 22:55 GMT 23:55 UK
Malta hopes for air tourism boost
By Brandy Yanchyk
BBC News, Malta

Azure Window - Copyright Rory Lee
Tourists can view the Azure Window at Dwejra Bay in western Gozo

Low-budget carriers are changing the face of tourism on the islands of Malta and Gozo.

The low-cost airlines have started flying to Malta over the past year, and the Maltese are hoping the move will help to invigorate the island's sluggish tourist industry.

Maltese Tourism Minister Francis Dimech said: "There has been a loss of more than 45,000 tourists from our main core market, the British, this year."

Mr Dimech believes the new airlines will attract tourists from other parts of Europe and forecasts that the budget carriers will bring in more than 100,000 passengers this year.

'Double-edged knife'

These cheaper flights are attracting different types of tourists from the ones that the island is used to.

Travellers can now afford to come for short weekend breaks and those on a tight budget have the opportunity to sample the island.

Hannah O'Reilly, an Australian backpacker, says she booked a ticket to fly to Malta because it was so cheap.

"I didn't actually know where Malta was until I saw it was, like, one pence to get there, so I looked it up on the internet and booked it."

People living on the more tranquil sister island of Gozo also want to benefit from the low-cost carriers flying into Malta.

Joe Muscat, from Gozo's tourism association, said: "These new cheap airlines are a double-edged knife for Gozo. The island is losing its share of the domestic market.

"The Maltese that usually would have crossed over to Gozo for their weekend breaks now have another opportunity to go to more exciting European destinations at a cheaper rate".

'Agro-tourism'

Some locals in Gozo have joined together to make sure their island continues to be a unique destination to travel to by promoting it as a destination that specialises in agro and eco- tourism.

Sheep shearing in Malta -  Copyright Rory Lee
Zeppi Ta'Kurun demonstrates to tourists how to shear sheep by hand

Zeppi Ta'Kurun, a Gozitan farmer has joined up with the Ager Foundation, an organisation that invites tourists to spend the day with local farmers, learning the traditional ways of making cheese and milking and shearing sheep.

Mr Ta'Kurun said: "When the tourists are here, they like everything, because they see I milk with my hands not with the machine. They try to milk the sheep, they try to cut the grass for the sheep."

Development concerns

Gozitans are also trying to attract tourists by improving the island's infrastructure.

There is a heated debate on the island over whether to build upmarket hotels and villas, a golf course and a heliport extension for private planes.

These possible developments worry locals like the island's Green party member, John Mizzi.

He says he is against the proposed expansion of Gozo's tiny airport because of the possible noise and air pollution it may bring.

"Because Gozo is small when you have planes landing, the whole island will roar. I think we have to keep Gozo as quiet and clean as possible."




SEE ALSO
Country profile: Malta
14 Mar 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Malta
14 Mar 07 |  Country profiles
Eco-tourism: A sustainable trade?
14 Dec 06 |  Science/Nature



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