VALLETTA, Malta -- Tourism officials in this tiny Mediterranean
archipelago report significant increases in North American arrivals
this year over last -- a spurt they attribute in part to increased
popularity of its festivals -- as they ponder launching an agent
According to the latest figures from the Malta Tourism
Authority, arrivals from the U.S. from January through April
increased 5% compared with the same period last year.
In April alone, 2,200 Americans -- double the April 2000 number
-- visited Malta.
"Malta is a year-round destination thanks to our climate, but
we're not a typical Mediterranean destination," said Franco Debono,
director, North America, for the MTA.
"We don't have the long, long beaches of Tunisia or Greece."
Noting that Malta is dotted with medieval cities, Debono said
"it's the pageantry of their [medieval] festivals that's a draw,
such as at Christmas and during Holy Week.
"For example, Carnival is very big in Malta, compared to the
rest of Europe," he said.
This fall, the country celebrates its sixth annual Birgu
Festival Oct. 5 to 7, commemorating the "French Blockade" period
with concerts and historical re-enactments.
In addition, the Middle Sea Race will draw the international
yacht set starting Nov. 3, and the International Choir Festival
will run from Nov. 12 to 16, featuring music from the Renaissance,
Baroque, Classical and modern periods.
Debono also credited the increase in U.S. arrivals to the
strength of the dollar against the local lira -- which is tied to a
weak euro -- and the availability of good "through fares" from Air
Malta and its transatlantic partner carriers, such as Virgin
In light of the uptake in U.S. visitors, Debono is weighing
whether to introduce an agent specialist program in the U.S. by the
end of the year.
"However, I don't know if it makes real sense for agents to
concentrate on such a small destination," he said.