Still too early to predict what summer will be like for Gozo tourism – Gozo Tourism Association

Gozo Tourism Authority (GTA) CEO Joe Muscat

It is still too early to predict what summer will be like, Gozo Tourism Authority (GTA) CEO Joe Muscat told this newsroom, highlighting that it depends on a number of factors.

With the latest Covid-19 restrictions calling for limited trips to Gozo – with the exception of “essential trips” and residents crossing over – the Gozo tourism industry has decelerated to a halt.

Gozo saw a drop of 78% of foreign arrivals last year and the coming summer has the added challenge that less Maltese residents may travel to Gozo too.

This newsroom spoke to Muscat to hear what he believes summer holds for Gozitan tourism, and how the island can slowly and steadily revitalize its tourism industry.

What state is Gozo’s tourism industry in at the moment?

Presently, the tourism sector in Gozo is practically at a standstill. With the latest restrictions announced a few days ago, travellers to Gozo for leisure purposes have been dramatically restricted since the Maltese visitors cannot cross to Gozo. Therefore, the domestic market is practically non-existent up until the 11th of April.

Consequently, some major hotels in Gozo are closed up until mid-April, with their staff either doing maintenance work or being sent on leave. On the other hand, some Gozitan accommodation establishments are welcoming foreign tourists, since the Malta International Airport (MIA) is still open.

Furthermore, with the latest restrictions, even the catering establishments are closed, offering only take-away services; services that, in their majority, are being offered to the residents living in Gozo.

Yet tourism is not only about accommodation and catering establishments. There are other sectors within the tourism sector that are also carrying the burden. These include diving schools, the transport providers, the tourist attractions and also other tourism-related services. The tourism sector’s situation is in a very precarious state for the Gozitan economy. We are relying on its resilience as well as the government wage supplement, in order to pass through these unprecedented times.

The latest Covid-19 measures in Malta have called for limited access to Gozo, with only “essential trips” and residents being allowed to crossover. Does the GTA expect to see less Maltese visiting Gozo this summer and, if so, what impact will this have on Gozo’s tourism industry?

As mentioned earlier, the latest announced measures are restricting the Maltese leisure travellers up to 11th April, so up to that date we will not be expecting any sort of tourism activity. However, after mid-April, we sincerely hope that present restrictions are lifted and we expect to start seeing more Maltese crossover to Gozo for day breaks. By that time, the Maltese vistiors will be in need of a break and will cross over to our island.

We had already experienced a similar situation when the inter-island leisure restrictions during the first partial lockdown last year at the beginning of May were lifted. Therefore, more or less, we are expecting the same number of domestic tourists in Gozo during the coming summer.

At this point, however, one has to take into consideration the vaccination programme process, both in Malta and Gozo. This progress will also determine if the Maltese can holiday overseas – something which they have been deprived of for the past year or so. Therefore, it is too early to envisage how summer will turn out, even in terms of domestic visitors.

Less foreign tourists are expected to travel to Malta this summer. What challenges do you think Gozitan tourism will face as a result of this?

We envisage that, even though MIA will remain open, we will have another summer that is short of foreign guests. Although people across the globe are so eager to travel and take their holidays, this summer is coming too early, when the Covid-19 pandemic is still raging and the vaccination programmes are still dragging to reach herd immunity phase. In such a scenario, the vaccination process in Europe is not accelerating, which does not encourage travelling. Thus, we are expecting another drop in foreign arrivals. Last year, Gozo reported 78% drop in foreign arrivals.

However, from a regional perspective, such circumstances further highlight the importance and the need for the domestic tourism market on the island. From day one since the closure of the MIA way back in March of last year, the GTA predicted and sustained that overseas travel restrictions will mean that the survival of Gozitan tourism will depend on Maltese visitors coming to the island. And during the course of this pandemic, this fact was proven.

Having said that, the Gozitan market is compensating for the lack of foreign visitors. While the Maltese average length of stay is 2.6 nights, that of the foreign guests is 5.5 nights. Therefore, the foreign market remains the main backbone of Gozitan tourism.

The United Kingdom represents Malta’s biggest travel market. With plans to drop all mitigation measures this June, do you think British tourists could potentially travel to Gozo this summer?

Apart from the lifting of the mitigation measures, Gozo has to intensify the vaccination programme and reach herd immunity as early as possible, whereby 70-75% of the island’s population is vaccinated. With the opening of the new vaccination centre in Victoria, there is the possibility that this point can be reached in early June. This can be used successfully as a marketing tool to bring in foreign visitors.

Only when we reach this stage and can guarantee that Gozo is a ‘safe from Covid’ destination do we believe that we can start receiving foreign guests, especially those coming from Britain. If, as a population, we co-operate with the instructions of the health authorities, we can achieve this. Otherwise, we envisage that we will start receiving foreign tourists well into late summer 2021.

Do you think Malta could also reach her immunity by June?

I think that the situation in Malta is a bit more challenging than the one in Gozo. Here we have around 33,000 inhabitants, so it is possible that all entitled to the vaccine could receive it by early June. In Malta however, the population is larger and there needs to be much more effort to vaccinate people on the island.

Do you expect restaurants to remain closed in summer in Gozo? 

No, we are not expecting restaurants to stay closed in summer. On the contrary, we are expecting that by mid-April, as soon as there is the restrictions are lifted, that the catering establishments will , hopefully, begin operating as they did before while following the health protocols published by the health authorities. From past experience, we believe that the majority of the Gozitan catering establishments adhered to these health protocols and always offered safe eating environments.

On the other hand, GTA believes that summer will be too soon for mass events – and we mean any mass events, whatever type and whoever is organizing them. The GTA believes that once the numbers are back to low levels, we have to remain vigilant and not become overly-confident, while continuing to take necessary precautions.

Finally, we have always marketed Gozo as a tranquil and safe island, and now we have to emphatically market Gozo as a Covid-safe destination. 

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