Last Updated on Thursday, 2 September, 2021 at 9:37 am by Andre Camilleri
“It’s time to focus on the missing link, and that’s the air link”, states Gozo Tourism Authority CEO Joe Muscat.
Speaking to The Malta Business Weekly, Muscat reiterates the need for increased air connectivity as part of the Association’s recently announced budget proposals. The Budget 2022 proposals cover five priority areas. These pillars include inter-island connectivity, fiscal measures, Gozo as a product, marketing the destination and human resources.
“These proposals are intended to serve as mitigating measures which are still needed at this stage, as well as other measures encompassing medium to long term actions which should assist in the recovery of tourism and establish it back to its former position prior to Covid-19” explained Muscat.
With regards to the connectivity pillar, Muscat continued, “ Here we are focusing on the building and developing the necessary infrastructure for an airlink, including an 800 metre airstrip that can accommodate the landing and take-off of a 20-seater fixed-wing aircraft. There is also the potential to open up a new niche industry for job opportunities in aviation, and that’s why it’s very much an important missing link alongside connectivity.
On top of this, we have looked further at the sea link. We propose a reduction in Gozo Channel ferry fares from Monday to Thursday during the winter months to entice the domestic market during the weekdays. What’s more, we would like to see a scheme by Gozo Channel in conjunction with accommodation providers offering reduced ferry fares and special offers for particular weekends from November to March. We also believe we should provide and re-introduce, in addition to the four existing ferries, another ferry dedicated for cargo to operate all year round between Malta and Gozo. This ferry will release the MV Gaudos from cargo transportation, and thus, two more hoistable decks can be installed on this ferry.
When asked about the tunnel proposals, in light of a recent Times of Malta survey which identified support for a Malta-Gozo tunnel is split down the middle, with 41.6 per cent of the population in agreement and 38.8 per cent against the project, Muscat explained “All opinion polls are just reflective of that particular snapshot in time. It’s not the response we hear at our association, though”
He continued. “The issue with the tunnel remains the public are not well informed about the consequences. Right now, it may sound like a good idea, but firstly traffic remains a huge issue in Malta regardless of the tunnel, so there is no time saving in the journey. Secondly, the impact upon Gozo isn’t well-considered yet. For example, there have been many projects developing infrastructure and widening roads to cope with bottlenecks in Malta. With thousands of cars entering the island daily, how would Gozo manage structurally with such a feat? How can we be sure that the tunnel fee would be reasonable? The Mont Blanc tunnel stretches 11.7 km between France and Italy and costs €59 return to cross by car. We need more answers than we are currently being given.”
Oher aspects within the connectivity pillar focused on Boutique cruises. The necessary infrastructural investment in cruise berthing buoys off selected Gozitan ports to offer alternative berthing facilities around the West and South coast of Gozo. As well as the repair, maintenance and upgrade of the Mgarr landing quay to provide an enhanced welcome to visiting cruise passengers.
The remaining pillars are as follows,
• As per EU Directive 2001/112/EC Article 98.1 & 98.2, the vat applicable for admission to shows, theatres, fairs, amusement parks, concerts, museums, cinemas, conferences, exhibitions and similar cultural events and facilities should be adjusted from 18% to 7%.
• The waiving of all license fees for 2022 payable by all MTA licensed establishments payable and including MTA (Operating Licenses), REWS (Swimming Pool Licenses), Lands Authority (Encroachment Fees) and Transport Malta (Transport Vehicles and pleasure boat licenses), this In lieu of the wage supplement which is being phased out by December 2021.
• Ring-fencing of the ECO contribution collected from Gozitan Tourism Establishments to be re-invested directly in the upgrade of the tourism product in Gozo.
The Gozo Product
• The updating and the implementation of the Gozo Diving Master Plan, carried out through EU co-financing way back in 2006 by the Ministry for Gozo.
• The continuation of upkeep on a regular basis of the rural roads leading to self-catering accommodation for easier access, especially during wintertime.
• Include in the remit of the Intervention Team within the Ministry for Gozo the ownership, maintenance, and management of several tourist spots like the Qbajjar Promenade, the Three Hills Garden in Marsalforn, the Villa Rundle Gardens, Zewwieqa Waterfront, country walk paths, dive sites etc.
• The development of a water park and a theme park in Gozo.
• The development of more sports facilities including, athletics track and training camps facilities that can be incorporated in one holistic project at the Ta’ Xhajma Race Track.
• The fast-tracking of the necessary amendments to the Tourism Act (1999 preferably by the beginning of the summer season 2022, to reflect today’s tourism product.
Upgrading of Tourist establishments
• A scheme available to all MTA licensed tourism establishments to cater for the upgrading of their product. This scheme can be partially financed by specific EU funds.
• The continuation of an aggressive international targeted marketing campaign to support awareness of Destination Gozo during winter 2022.
• Create, offer, support and entice new niches like adventure, activity, sports, walking and well-being in the absence of the cultural calendar, due to covid restrictions.
• The re-introduction of the vouchers scheme to be launched after the winter period covering the period March to May 2022.
• Training schemes during the winter months aimed at improving knowledge and skills in the tourism industry, including training in soft skills and languages, while encouraging retention of employees during off-peak months, sustained through grants coupled with employer and employee full NI Credit.
• A scheme targeted towards foreign employees to integrate better through the learning of the Maltese or English Languages, as well as local regulations and the history and culture of the Maltese Islands.
• A scheme that encourages employees and owners already in the tourism sector to obtain Postgraduate Certification, Postgraduate Diploma and Master of Science in Hospitality Management.
• Develop the ITS Gozo Campus into a specialised vocational tourism institution that caters not only for Gozitans but also for Maltese and foreign students who opt to follow specific courses.