The news that the Malta tourist industry has been waiting for so long for has finally been confirmed - low cost flights to the island have been granted approval.
Visitor numbers to the Mediterranean holiday island have been in decline this year, and culmilated in rumours that a UK tour operator was considering pulling Malta out of its brochures for next year, which would sharply accelerate the decline from a destination competing with Spain and her islands for tourists to a much smaller niche market player.
Hotel and resort owners have seen the Maltese government drag the negotiations out with the low cost airlines for some time, with delays in agreements losing Malta the potential of having extra tourists for this summer season.
'It's been painful to watch', comment local travel guide YourMalta, 'The impression the government have given is that they were quite happy to protect part of Malta's industry - the flag carrier Air Malta - at the expense of the overall travel trade. As a result the number of visitors this year has already shown a drop. If they had acted quicker this last summer season could have been much better for the Malta hotels and holiday industry'.
Statements from Ryanair, the first low cost carrier to be flying to Malta, seem to back up the claims by YourMalta as they say they were at one stage taking a booking a minute for their new Malta route.
'If the Malta government had got the agreement in place six months ago, the tourist industry would be in a much better position today, after a good summer', add YourMalta.
Some of the anticipation of an increase in hotel and holiday bookings for Malta has been tempered recently after a survey in the UK - Malta's largest market - showed that package holidays in 2007 would be more expensive than comparable holidays in Spain and her islands.
'There is a possibility', comment YourMalta, 'That the introduction of the low cost airlines flying to Malta will merely delay the long term decline of the island's tourist industry. Unless money is spent on the infrastructure and improving the environment for the tourists generally there is a danger that a lot of visitors will be one-off. If there's a lesson to be learned in Malta that the government and her agencies have failed to grasp it is that sustainable tourism is built on repeat visitors. At the moment a lot of visitors from the UK see Malta as a one-off trip'.
As well as Ryanair, easyjet are also in talks about flights to Malta, with the possibility of operations beginning in spring next year.
The property market will also be keeping a close eye on tourist numbers now that the new flights have been given the green light. If visitor numbers do drop in the medium term it could be good news for locals looking to buy their first property.
There has been some discontent on the island about the rising prices of property in Malta, and with less overseas buyers the possibility of prices falling and more islanders being able to get on the property ladder could be welcome news, as today's tourist is often tomorrow's property buyer.
But now that low cost airlines are going to start offering flights to Malta, this could help the Malta hotels and holiday market as more people consider three and four day breaks instead of the traditional week or fortnight, boosting the overall number of visitors, especially if Air Malta and the low cost airlines bring the cost of Malta flights to levels seen for the Spanish islands.
Malta has traditionally seen the majority of her visitors from the UK, but this could be changing to a more diverse mix in future years.
Last year saw a record number of visitors from Italy, and increased enquiries have been received at estate agents across the island from Scandanvia, Holland, France and Belgium, helping to increase the demand for Malta properties.