30/03/2011

Malta Tourists 'Not Worried' Over Libya

Holidaymakers on Malta have been asked about any concerns they might have about their visit to the Mediterranean island.

There are fears that visitor numbers from the UK to what is Europe's nearest neighbour to Libya may be hit by the turbulence just over 200 miles away.

The straw poll came as Malta's Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi admitted in the capital, Valetta, (pictured here by Brian McCalden) that an 'official' Libyan plane was refused landing permission at the weekend.

He said that the passengers included pilots who intended to 'repossess' two multi-million Euro Mirage fighter aircraft flown there earlier by defecting Libyan pilots.

As the tensions were racked-up by the latest development, British visitors to the holiday island were among those being polled by the authoritive Malta Times newspaper about any fears they might have had before travelling.

They were being asked if they had any worries about Malta, after cancellations by small groups from the UK, France and Germany and a reported slowdown in bookings.

This was especially so at a time when foreign media were in Malta reporting about the incidents in Libya and people's evacuation from the beleaguered country.

While some of the UK holidaymakers said they were unconcerned, others would have been willing to cancel had they been able to claim refunds - but all agreed that since arrival, all was peaceful.
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However, as the request by Libya for the two war planes to be returned has been denied - and the request by their pilots for political asylum remained under consideration in Malta - some will reflect on the mere 221 mile proximity to Tripoli, Libya's capital.

The problems in Libya and the region have increased uncertainty over visitor numbers after Air Malta - the country's official carrier - entered a crucial stage of restructuring as it wallows in debt.

Just last week, the Hotels and Restaurants Association president George Micallef said the country usually experienced a surge in bookings as Easter approached.

"Unfortunately, the media abroad is saying Malta will be used as a military base and this is creating anxiety for possible visitors.

"People are booking late but those who are planning a holiday want to choose and once they choose another country we've lost them," he said.

This was a blow as big as the uncertainty surrounding the future of the national airline, which he said, was creating anxiety among stakeholders in the tourism industry.

However, he said: "Libya is a one-off and it could be damaging if it takes long to solve, but Air Malta has a more long-term effect on the industry."

Now, the news that the two Libyan pilots had landed in Malta's Luqa airport to claim asylum was further unwelcome news.

They arrived on single-seater Mirage F1 planes and the government said they landed due to fuel shortage.

The pilots only made contact with the control tower once they had landed on the commercial runway at .

They were taken into police custody and questioned, with preliminary investigations confirming their story.

(BMcC/GK)

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