Last Updated on Thursday, 31 August, 2023 at 1:44 pm by Andre Camilleri
The Gozo Tourism Association has again highlighted its concerns about over-development n Gozo, saying that it is “jeopardising and lambasting the core of (Gozo’s) tourism values”.
Presenting its proposals for the budget 2024, the GTA said that with the Covid pandemic behind our backs, now the tourism sector worldwide is back to grind its way up to the pre-covid levels. The war in Ukraine coupled with inflation increases, compounded further the challenges of this sector creating more instability and adding several uncertainties that are affecting the travel and leisure industry.
“Tourism on the Island region of Gozo is also at a cross roads,” the GTA said. “While all local policies and strategies are pointing and directing towards a distinct destination, focusing on particular niche markets based on the island’s unique selling propositions, yet the tourism sector is very much concerned that the overdevelopment on Gozo is jeopardising and lambasting the core of these tourism values”.
These overdevelopments which is mostly for residential purposes is harming the character of our little island on which the tourism sector has been for years marketing and promoting, as well as creating trends which are not naturally touristic, GTA said.
The Malta Tourism Strategy 2021-2030 states that the Island should continue building on the distinctiveness of Gozo, focusing more exclusively on Gozo’s unique selling propositions and embracing the principles of climate friendly tourism. Even the Gozo Regional Development Authority in its Strategy for 2021-2030, published recently, has included as one of its priority areas sustainable tourism, based on niche and quality tourism.
“However, can we effectively say that tourism in Gozo presently is able to move forward in line with the above policies? On the other hand, do we really and truly want to continue offering Gozo as a different destination? The Gozitan tourism sector is concerned about with which direction destination Gozo is to be continued marketed and promoted,” the GTA said.
Gozo being an island region, at present depends totally on the sea link, which actually is the metaphoric arterial road linking Malta with Gozo. Along these last years the connectivity between mainland Malta and Gozo continued to improve further. During June of 2019 Gozo Channel introduced the fourth ferry on its daily schedule. This introduction proved to be very efficient, thus reducing the waiting times at both ends especially during busy weekends and other holiday breaks.
As from 1st June of 2021 the sea connectivity was further boosted with the introduction of a fast ferry service between Valletta and Mgarr Harbours. This service consolidated with further Government assistance is attesting to be an additional efficient means of sea connectivity. During the past year over 8000 trips were performed on the route Mgarr- Valletta-Mgarr with 364,672 commuters using the fast ferry service.
The Gozo Tourism Association believes that the inter-island connectivity is to be continuously improved and sustained.
Proposed Budget measures:
- Retain, improve and sustain the fast ferry service which can also assist in attracting to Gozo other niche tourists.
- Build a new fourth ferry identical to the existing ones to replace the Nikolaus.
- Commence the development of the Airfield for the fixed wing airlink between Gozo and Malta.
- Introduce an integrated ticketing system which allows persons to commute on different transport modes with a single common ticket (Fast ferry service, Gozo Channel Service and Malta Transport Service).
The environment, its planning and its upkeep plays an important role in tourism. From the outset, the Gozo Tourism Association does not want Gozo to become another smaller Malta. Gozo should remain an island of Villages. Therefore, planning and environmental policies that are applicable for Malta are not necessarily fitting for Gozo.
Essentially even in this regard Gozo must remain distinct and retains its unique Island identity. This can only be brought about by introducing planning and environmental policies that cater for the needs of Gozo. Such policies should reflect as well the input and consultation of a range of Gozitan stakeholders.
The GTA believes that whilst encouraging investment in sustainable infrastructural projects and developments that add more value to the product of Gozo, careful attention should be given in order not to commit some of the mistakes experienced in the past on the mainland, and to a lesser extent on Gozo itself. However, a balance must be struck between the environment and any future touristic development that the tourism industry will for sure need, to keep on upgrading its product and widening its touristic offer
Proposed Budget measures:
- Develop new regional plan and policies specifically designed for Gozo to preserve it as an island of villages within a modern world.
- Remove all fiscal incentives on sale of buildings and land for development into apartments.
- Retain the existing incentives on sale and purchase of properties in UCA where the purchaser signs a guarantee to restore the property without subdivision.
- Extend the incentives in all vernacular and postwar properties including UCA where buyer undertakes to preserve the integrity of the property, respecting and not exceeding the surrounding traditional village heights.
- Introduce a fiscal incentive scheme to encourage the restoration and conversion of existing traditional properties and bring them back to life as residential homes, boutique hotels.
- Ensure the enforcement of Marine Protected Areas around the Gozitan coast applying the model of the Cirkewwa marine reserve.
The Island of Gozo has a distinctive cultural, heritage and natural resource base with a quality range of products. These inherent strengths have to be guarded and enhanced to ensure that they retain their appeal. There is evidence of slippage in the presentation and maintenance of the touristic infrastructure together with a lack of investment and organisation in many of the services that contribute to the touristic experience.
However, whilst appreciating these efforts being done by Government to improve the Island’s tourism product, the Gozo Tourism Association is proposing that additional initiatives can be taken to improve the image of Gozo as a tourist destination. In a recent survey conducted by the Gozo Tourism Association, tourism operators stated that unfinished projects are giving a shabby look of the island. Furthermore, respondents of this survey declared in their majority that their respective establishments need upgrading and refurbishing.
Proposed Budget measures:
- Ringfence the ECO contribution collected from Gozitan accommodation units to be invested in product upgrading like kitting up areas for the diving community.
- Ensure and enforce the right of access to the diving sector for the shoreline on the North and North west of Gozo.
- Fast track the amendments to the Tourism Act 1999 to reflect the new trends in tourism establishments.
- Allocate enough funds to finish the Gozo Natatorium and the Gozo Museum.
- Commence the rebuilding of the Marsalforn Road which incorporates part of the Victoria ring road which will eventually ease traffic flow through the capital’s core.
PROMOTING THE DESTINATION
Destination Gozo has benefited from the recent growth of the Maltese tourism. Although seasonality is always a challenge for an island tourist destination, Gozo is slowly mitigating its effects. Over the past 25 years, Gozo has developed into a year-round destination, distinct from Malta and with its own mix of year-round international visitors. To this one must add the significant domestic market from the mainland with its obvious peaks and shorter stays mostly during the weekends and public holidays.
The Gozo Tourism Association believes every effort is to be made to continue building on these gains, whilst encouraging the Gozitan tourism sector to focus on the unique selling propositions of Gozo. The Island of Gozo is very aggressively presented on the web and social media which has helped to continue emphasising its differentiation from Malta.
Proposed Budget measures:
- Re-introduce the extended stays scheme and broaden it to incentivise also tour operators specialising in winter breaks and longer stays to market and sell Gozo for the October to April period.
- Assist and incentivise small touristic establishments to set up their respective website.
- Create, offer, support and entice new niches like adventure, activity, sports, walking, digital nomads and well-being.
THE HUMAN CAPITAL
It is estimated that tourism and related services account for over 10% of employment on Gozo. Ongoing training in the tourism sector will help maintain the high rate of 40% of repeat guests. In order to continue offering good quality service and helping the Gozitan Operators in training and retaining their staff even in the difficult winter months, the Gozo Tourism Association believes that the sector needs support and assistance. Combined efforts need to be taken to address the shortage of workers in the touristic sector.
Some of the working conditions in the touristic sector are not enticing, while unmatched competition coming from jobs in the Public Sector are making it impossible to recruit local staff.
Proposed Budget measures:
- Introduce a grant scheme for local students who opt to work during the weekends or their holidays in Gozitan tourism establishments.
- Organise courses targeting foreign employees to learn the basics of the Maltese and English Language, as well the history and culture of the Maltese Islands.
- Set up a scheme to assist employers and employees to attend a comprehensive list of training courses prepared by the ITS training School covering a wide range of topics tailored made for Gozitan touristic needs.
- 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.
- Ensure that the Public Sector is no longer in competition with the Private Sector for the recruitment of employees by offering favourable and 4 unmatchable working conditions.