The small Mediterranean island of Malta’s holiday industry was saved by the entry into the market of low fare aiirlines, turning a worsening position just five years ago to an island that has an active tourism sector today.

With higher fares than other islands in the Mediterranean the number of vacations to Malta had been declining for some years, but eventually the authorities gave in to the inevitable and allowed Dublin based Ryanair to start flights to Malta – and the island has benefitted from increased visitor numbers since.

Now, other airlines are now flying to the island’s Luqa Airport, including two from the UK, easyJet and bmi, from not just the main British airports such as Gatwick, but Bournemouth, Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle – with good news for holidaymakers in the north of Ireland Ireland that easyJet are to start a Belfast service in 2011.

The welcome news for passenegrs of the skies opening up to the low cost carriers is a wider choice of Malta flights for holidaymakers, with more a choice of departure times and which airport to fly from, as well as lower fares.

And while the British market is the biggest for her holiday industry, more tourists are coming from elsewhere as the airlines have opened more routes from other European cities – diversifying the tourist mix, becoming less dependent on British visitors, and increasing the net number of people spending money in the hotels, stores and other vacation related businesses.

The new routes include Milan and Rome in Italy, Barcelona, Madrid, Marseille, Seville, Stockholm, Valencia and Venice – allowing the Spanish, French, Italian and Swedish to be more likely to consider Malta for a week or two.

All very good news for the vacation industry. But it’s not just the lower airfares that those taking a holiday are benefitting from, as Malta’s flag carrier is winning awards for excellence, while lowering their own fares to compete with the low cost carriers.

This summer a satisfaction survey of passengers by the influential magazine Which? resulted in Air Malta being voted as one of the best, alongside Swiss Air, while the budget airlines were a lot less successful, certainly for Swiss and Malta flights.

It’s quite a fait accompli for the island’s national airline. Given that it’s a small nation with a population of under 450,000 there were justifiable worries that the airline might go bust as the rival low cost carriers cut fares. But Air Malta has not just competed well on price but provided a service that other – much bigger – airlines cannot match on standards.

Along with the good hotels Malta has, the island is now attractive not just to those who are considering a two week holiday in the sun, but also for those holidaymakers who want to visit for a long weekend. Increasingly spa hotels are an attraction, and some of the hotels have been winning awards themselves for excellence this year, all adding to her reputation among tourists from Britain, Ireland and mainland Europe.

The capital city is Valletta, and the main towns where people take Malta holidays are St Paul’s Bay, St. Julians and Mellieha – Mellieha has the best sandy beach and quite a few people who take villas as opposed to staying in a hotel choose to stay there, with the Santa Maria Estate gaining a reputation for villa breaks.

Taking a flight can be stressful and set a poor tone for the rest of a trip, but if you want your holiday to start from the moment you leave your home country it might be worthwhile shortlisting Malta as a destination.

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