Israel and Malta will not cope with the impending holiday explosion

Hugh Morris
·4-min read
Malta is used to welcoming 840,000 Britons a year. How will it cope with millions? - Getty
Malta is used to welcoming 840,000 Britons a year. How will it cope with millions? - Getty

If the early modelling on the Government’s ‘green’ list is to be believed, plenty of British travellers this summer are going to find themselves out in the cold. Literally.

The US, New Zealand, Australia, Israel, Malta, Iceland, Ireland and Gibraltar are to be the Accessible Eight, set to reopen to UK visitors when international travel resumes on May 17, without the need for quarantine on return.

But with just three of those countries in the top 20 nations typically preferred by Britons, 2021 will be the year of the Holiday Homeless, scouring the internet for the best resorts in countries they had never given a second thought to visiting.

If you discount the US (one of the three; the fourth most popular), Australia and New Zealand on account of the fact that Britons are most likely to look closer to home this summer for their first post-pandemic beach flop, that leaves just Ireland and Malta of our favourite destinations open for business.

In 2019, Ireland and Malta accounted for 5.63 million of the 58.7 million trips made abroad by Britons, barely 10 per cent. That means that 56.3 million holidays will be either a) unfulfilled or b) crammed onto Irish or Maltese soil.

We are creatures of habit when it comes to holidays. Spain has long been the most popular destination for Britons, with France second. In 2019, Spain, France and Italy accounted for more than half of all UK outbound tourism (33.5 million trips).

The highly restrictive ‘green’ list looks set to change that. We might for the first time consider for our annual leave the Wild Atlantic Way (Ireland), the black beaches of Reynisfjara (Iceland) or the balmy charms of Gozo (Malta).

That huge numbers will have to think outside the box for their summer holiday is problematic, especially given how quickly the UK has booked up for ‘staycations’, but it is just the tip of the iceberg.

Malta, a country heavily dependent on tourism (some 15 per cent of its GDP) and alongside Gibraltar as the most obvious sun destination on the ‘green’ list, will no doubt be desperate for the return of holidaymakers. But when it is used to welcoming 840,000 Britons, how will it cope with millions?

By 2017 figures, each Maltese resident was already outnumbered four to one by tourists. The island (split across Malta and its neighbours Comino and Gozo) has just 39,500 hotel beds. If every Briton who visited Spain in 2019 turned their attention to the small archipelago in the Mediterranean, each bed would have 458 suitors. In 2019, a study published by the University of Malta concluded that “overtourism” – the modern phenomenon of neighbourhoods becoming overrun by visitors – had “set in”, leading to tensions between business and society, culture and environment. A UK Government traffic light system that funnels Britons tourists onto the tenth smallest country in the world is only going to exacerbate the issue.

Likewise, for Iceland, where residents in the capital, Reykjavik, have already decried the “Disney-fication” of the city. The wild, rugged country would not typically register on the UK’s top 20 countries but may well do this year. In 2019, it welcomed in total two million tourists; a fraction of the British Holiday Homeless.

Israel, one of the destinations on everyone’s lips this summer on account of its successful vaccination programme, enjoyed a record year for tourism in 2019, seeing 4.55 million visitors. If every Briton who wanted to visit France this summer turned their attention to the Middle East, Israel could more than double that.

What’s more is that with just 407 hotels and 54,000 rooms (by 2018’s count), will the country be able to cope with a huge influx? Could a British holidaymaker more used to paying for a package on the Algarve be able to afford the bidding process for the handful of Tel Aviv’s sought after hotel rooms?

This is just number crunching but it illustrates some of the knock-on effects of a highly restrictive ‘green’ list. As airlines and tour operators wait on news before ramping up capacity (the Government has still given no indication as to when it will name the ‘green’ countries, though May 10 has been mooted by industry insiders), pent up demand might end up focused on a tiny number of viable countries. Those destinations will end up heavily oversubscribed, leading to soaring costs or even a heightened risk of new Covid clusters.

It might make more sense to spread more evenly the desires of a nation’s holiday hopes; not only then would the economic benefits of overseas travel be spread to more resorts, more restaurants and hotels, more tour guides, but the Great British public might be better able to figure out where to go.