The number of passengers travelling by ship between Malta and Sicily have continued to grow and now exceed pre-pandemic levels, says Virtu Ferries, the company now operating the sole ferry link between the two islands.

It is forecasting a return to profitability in 2023 on the back of increasing passenger numbers on the route and strong freight demand after two years posting losses.

The strong demand for ferry passage between Malta and Sicily saw Virtu Ferries complete 1,414 trips in 2022, more than the initially scheduled 1,342 – exceeding the 1,072 trips made in 2019, the last pre-pandemic year, by a wide margin.

The company said it is “noteworthy to highlight that the deployment of a second vessel on the route with different timings contributed to the increase in demand.”

The pandemic hit the company hard, with inbound tourists by sea falling from 51,212 in 2019 to 18,579 in 2020, before mounting a muted recovery in 2021 to 24,189. However, 2022 saw a marked increase in activity, with tourists entering the Maltese Islands by sea reaching 55,108.

Virtu Ferries notes that “this trend continued this year [2023] with more than 11,000 inbound tourists by sea recorded in the first quarter of 2023, exceeding the levels seen in 2022.”

Demand for travel has not slowed down since pandemic restrictions were lifted across most European countries by the summer of 2022. Q1 of 2023 saw a record number of inbound tourists, with 44,391 visitors – 17,000 more than in 2019, Malta’s best year for tourism and the last before the pandemic hit.

As for outbound figures, 158,180, trips were taken out of Malta in the first three months of the year for a combination of holiday (90,851) and work purposes (43,644).

Indeed, the sentiment among travel operators across the globe – both near and far – is positive as activity has shown a strong rebound. In a statement issued in May, the UN World Travel Organisation said that “international tourism is well on its way to returning to pre-pandemic levels, with twice as many people travelling during the first quarter of 2023 than in the same period of 2022.”

As figures are expected shortly on the first half of the year, all indications are showing that travel activity is in full swing.

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