Increasing accessibility to Gozo can enable a strategy where further economic niches can be created in Gozo, DANIEL BORG, CEO of Gozo Business Chamber, said. By Dayna Camilleri Clarke.
Asked by The Malta Business Weekly about the newly proposed fast ferry link between the islands, Borg said the business community welcomes all forms of accessibility to Gozo. “Although good, Gozo presently depends on the current ferry service between the two islands. This new type of connection will surely lessen travel time for commuters, persons going for meetings in Malta and Gozo within the vicinity of the port areas, and same-day visitors,” he said.
“This impacts business in Gozo in many ways, both directly and indirectly. For those attending Malta and Gozo meetings and deciding to use this type of transport, this would mean less lost time, which is a cost for business at the end of the day. For those Gozitans working in Malta, this would mean that they would not be faced with deciding whether they decide to reside permanently in Gozo or in Malta. This means a decreased rate of depletion of our local communities than the one we are presently facing. Though we also believe that this needs to be accompanied by a holistic economic strategy for Gozo to create sustainable economic niches,” he said.
“One also needs to know that before the pandemic, Gozo had a significant influx of non-resident same-day visitors to Gozo, i.e., those tourists who decide to visit Gozo only for a day. According to the National Statistics Office in 2019, same-day visitors to Gozo and Comino amounted to 1,346,550.”
“This means that once tourism starts regaining ground, this could be a viable option for these same-day visitors to use this service instead of taking the ferry from Ċirkewwa. This would indeed contribute to the reduction of the number of vehicles on our island,” he said.
In an age where many meetings are held online, Borg was asked if he deemed the link still necessary for workers. “While we believe that teleworking is here to stay, physical presence is still necessary for some jobs. Let’s remember that many Gozitans work in the Police Force, Military, education, and the medical field. While we cannot predict whether these segments will use this service, it would still provide an alternative, which presently they do not have.”
“Regarding office work, a modicum of physical presence will still be necessary, especially for sensitive meetings. Even those in business would prefer to do some meetings online, while others would be done physically,” he said. “I believe that this flexible and diversified approach will be the trend for the future. We have faced and are still facing a situation here in Gozo, where many young couples who work on the main island of Malta decide to reside permanently in Malta. On the other hand, parents of these couples go to Malta to help them out, especially when they have children of their own. This creates a situation where our communities are being adversely affected, with the effect that our local communities are suffering”.
Although the plan has been dropped on three previous occasions before, Borg described his confidence in the recent proposal,
“In our media release issued in August last year, we had been critical of the way the request for proposals at that time had been issued. We believe that the format presented now would offer the required flexibility and generate interest for the service to be offered. Moreover, there is clarity on how the service should be issued, which I think is important for any operators willing to start offering this service.”
On whether the issuing of this port notice is a little too late, Borg stated: “There have been multiple formulae in which the service was issued. This is a new formula that we believe will have the desired results. Though, in this case, only time will tell. The Government has tried and is still continuing to get the service off the ground, which means that the Government believes in its potential. This sign of confidence is important for the market, even for the eventual economic recovery post-Covid-19.”
“As I indicated, there are multiple segments which will benefit from the service: commuters; people who attend for meetings in Malta, and in Gozo; same-day visitors to Gozo; and also, students who attend for courses in Malta. Another niche that opens up to the tourism sector in Gozo is the fact that cruise liner passengers can now also be offered a rapid trip to the sister island with all the benefits this could accrue to the sector,” he said.
“Another factor is that increasing accessibility to Gozo can enable a strategy where other economic niches can be created in Gozo, as the difficulty of reaching the island is reduced. The potential is immense. Gozo can be an island of opportunity if the right conditions are in place, and accessibility is one of them.”
He concluded by highlighting the need for the addition of further fast ferry routes. “I think this is important, not only for Gozo but for Malta as a whole. Intermodal forms of transport are a pre-requisite for Malta and Gozo to reduce their carbon footprint. Moreover, today’s Gozitan workers, students, and businesses are no longer concentrated in only the Valletta area. However, the Valletta – Gozo direct link is the most urgent and can be the first step towards branching out into a new route.”