Last Updated on Thursday, 12 August, 2021 at 10:36 am by Andre Camilleri
Increase in foot passengers in Gozo, an additional 50 daily trips that together with the Gozo Channel schedule covers over 120 trips per 24-hour period and a reduction in traffic, are just some of the benefits of the new Fast Ferry service bestowed upon locals and tourists alike, explained Gozo Tourism Association CEO Joe Muscat, ahead of the popular Santa Marija weekend.
“Gozo has never been so accessible and in combination with our proposal for an air link between Malta and Gozo that would potentially create jobs in the aviation sector. So there’s truly no need for the tunnel,” said Muscat.
“What’s more, with the tunnel link, we are concerned Gozo will lose its charm and its unique identity, which sets it apart from Malta. I have always said we do not need to copy Malta and we must keep our appeal intact. Quite simply, if we lose our Gozitan identity and authenticity, we will lose the present tourism composite altogether and that’s a risk we cannot afford to take.”
Since the introduction of the Fast Ferry services, we have seen many positives; time-saving in reaching Valletta is one. On top of this, at the moment, we are not experiencing the full positive impact of the service. In ordinary times, many incoming tourists based in Malta can go straight to Valletta and access Gozo quickly and thousands of potential cruise passengers can also visit for a day trip. The cruise terminal is just metres from the ferry point.”
Although tourism is, of course, nowhere near pre-Covid levels, Muscat remains optimistic for the popular weekend ahead. However, he reiterated foreign tourists opt for more “bed nights” than locals from Malta.
Speaking to this newsroom, he added: “On average, the Maltese tend to book a two-night stay; I can say we have seen more demand for farmhouses and self-catering units than ever, both from locals and incoming tourists. We also consider the Maltese, who have a second home in Gozo, as they dine out and access local retail outlets and amenities. In fact, this is another emerging market we have seen, the rise in popularity of Maltese buying property in Gozo, even during the pandemic.”
Muscat continued: “Tourism this season has been slow but steady, with a concentration during the weekends. We also worked hard to ensure that those working in the hospitality sector were fully vaccinated before the peak season. For that, I must thank the front-liners who supported our vaccination drive.”
According to the popular booking platform booking.com, 97% of accommodation is already booked in Gozo for the upcoming Santa Marija weekend.
“Despite this positive trend, there still remains the fact that we will not be having an extended weekend similar to previous years. Consequently, this will impact Gozo’s tourism, as this year’s feast falls on a Sunday. We are also experiencing last-minute bookings to Gozo. That’s been a general theme throughout this season, most likely linked to the ongoing pandemic scenario and the number of cases.”
When asked if accommodation in Gozo was becoming too expensive for locals to visit, Muscat noted that despite vaccinations, many locals are still quite cautious of the situation and travelling. Therefore, many Maltese are opting to visit Gozo instead. He added: “Gozo brings peace of mind and a sense of escape – you are detached, yet you are not far from home if you need to get back in case of an emergency. We believe that visitors to Gozo do get value for their money. However, we do keep an eye on prices and urge those in the hospitality sector to be fair and reasonable at all times.”
In Gozo, the feast is usually celebrated throughout the streets of Victoria. However, due to the pandemic and the health authorities’ directives, traditional village feast outdoor celebrations are currently prohibited.