|Valletta, Malta Courtesy of Malta Tourism Authority|
By Kim Hyun-bin
The Republic of Malta, a small Southern European island country, is not well-known among Korean travelers, and many are even unaware of its existence.
To better promote the beauty of Malta to Koreans, the Malta Tourism Authority held the 2019 Product Seminar together with Italy's flagship carrier Alitalia, at the Westin Chosun Seoul, Tuesday.
The Malta Tourism Authority aims to double the number of Korean travelers to the island country with the goal of attracting 9,000 this year
"The island attracts 2.5 million travelers worldwide each year, which includes 4,518 Korean tourists for 2018, but we are targeting to attract 9,000 Koreans for this year," said Shingo Endo, representative of Japan and Korea for the Malta Tourism Authority. "A report states a 237 percent increase (of Korean tourists) between January to May this year compared to the same period of last year due to BTS visiting. We believe BTS played a key role in the surge."
K-pop boy band BTS visited Malta last year to film part of its travel reality show "Bon Voyage."
Alitalia provides four flights a week from Incheon to Rome and daily flights from Rome to Malta, which is the shortest route to the island with a flight time of 90 minutes, according to the airline.
The carrier operates an Airbus A330-200 on the Incheon-Rome route, capable of accommodating 249 passengers with 19 business class, 17 premium economy and 213 economy seats.
The airline offers localized services including Korean meals, movies and entertainment programs as well as Korean flight attendants aboard its flights from and to Incheon International Airport.
Historically rich Malta
There are scores of well-preserved attractions in Malta that would awe travelers just from touring around its capital Valletta, which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1981, and is also the smallest city in the European Union, according to the tourism agency.
Malta is a historically significant destination, home to another five UNESCO heritage sites including temples and castles that are over 5,000 years old. The country can be considered the melting pot of the region ruled by numerous nations over the last 7,000 years. Sicilians, Arabs, French, Turks and even the British have left their mark in the country's culture and cuisines: The Italians left pasta and wine and the Arabs left spices, dates and sugarcane, while the Greeks and Romans brought in almonds and olives.
"Malta is a mixed country as many countries ruled Malta and left their marks. The food is also mixed but there is still a lot of pasta and pizza as Italy is near. The most famous signature food are dishes made of rabbit, influenced by Arab cuisine, which uses a lot of spices," Endo said.
Another perk is the weather known to have over 300 sunny days a year as well as stunning beaches and delicious seafood right out of the cleanest waters of the Mediterranean.
The island country consists of three key islands ― Malta, Gozo and Comino ― which Endo says offer different tourists attractions. The main island of Malta is known for ancient architecture, while Gozo is for people who prefer to explore nature and Comino is a resort island filled with luxury five-star hotels.