Last Updated on Thursday, 20 July, 2023 at 12:52 pm by Andre Camilleri
The CEO of the Gozo Tourism Association (GTA), Joe Muscat, said that “we cannot allow Gozo to become like Malta”.
In an interview with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Muscat said that a survey carried out among the association members, which was published earlier this month, established that tourism operators are concerned with overdevelopment in Gozo.
Apart from having to inform their guests about inconveniences such projects taking place nearby could cause, business owners believe that this is going to change the Gozitan characteristics for which the island is known and marketed for, he said.
“We can’t let Gozo become like Malta,” he added, “as this will not only affect the island visually but will also have a negative impact on the experience of the tourist.”
Over the past years, Gozo has been at the centre of controversy as development projects have continued to eat into the land. Places like Xlendi and Marsalforn have lost their uniqueness and picturesque qualities as more and more buildings have been constructed in what were once quaint summer villages. And, as more years go by, this development is spreading to others areas on the island.
In the interview, Muscat said that sectors involved in the tourism sector should refrain from increasing their prices across the board; instead, price adjustments should reflect the direct impact that inflation has on the specific service or product.
Muscat was speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday on the association’s recommendations to businesses in order for Gozo to remain a competitive tourist destination.
He said that this summer is the first full summer without restrictions since the Covid-19 pandemic broke three years ago.
“Thus, we are expecting around the same influx of tourists we had pre-pandemic,” he said, adding that one of the main contributing factors for the island’s popularity will be its usual distinctiveness.
He was echoing what was said by Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri last week in an interview with this newsroom. Camilleri said that Gozo “is expecting a strong summer”.
Muscat said that in order to remain competitive, apart from businesses controlling their pricing, the connectivity between the islands should continue to be assisted by government. Thus, he positively welcomed the idea that the two companies which offered a fast ferry service has now merged into one. He said that apart from removing negative competitive factors such as pricing and scheduling, the service is now more financially sustainable, through government financial assistance.
Moreover, he said that the company should target to offer a reliable service from Valletta, such as the one currently offered by the Gozo Channel company from Cirkewwa, which he noted offers uninterrupted service and only stops operating during some hours in severe weather conditions.
According to NSO statistics, the number of passengers using the Gozo Channel service has so far increased when compared to 2022. The NSO said last April that the total number of vehicles and passengers travelling between Malta and Gozo in the first quarter of the year had increased significantly, with 1,254,008 passengers being carried on 8,742 trips.
Commenting on this, Muscat said that it must be kept in mind that the number of commuters is mostly made up of people who travel between the two islands for work or business purposes, which means that the number of travelling passengers is not necessarily a gauge that can be used to calculate how many tourists visit Gozo for a day or those who stay over for a night or more.
Muscat said that the idea to have an airstrip in Gozo, apart from enhancing tourism opportunities, will open up new job and business opportunities for the island.
Zeroing on tourism opportunities, he said that apart from bringing Gozo closer to the Luqa airport, thus facilitating and easing the tourist transfer to Gozo as well as increasing the island’s competitive level, the airstrip can also be an opportunity to connect Gozo directly with neighbouring islands and countries in the Mediterranean.
He said that the initial service, which is to offer internal flights to create a link between the Islands, should be reliable and also affordable in efforts to attract the consumers, both foreign and local.
Remaining on the subject of connectivity, Muscat re-confirmed GTA’s position on the government proposed tunnel between the two islands, saying that the association is still against the project as proposed.
The government has said recently that the building of the tunnel to Gozo is not a priority for the time being. The project has been on the cards for decades, but although studies have been made, no administration has as yet come forward with a concrete plan to establish the connection.
GTA believes that the islands would benefit more from a connecting railway system that would only carry people rather than vehicles.
Muscat said that an under-seabed road would worsen the traffic situation, especially in summer.
“There are already traffic problems in Gozo during the summer months as a result of the number of vehicles crossing the channel,” he said.
Muscat said that although the usual tourist resorts such as Xlendi and Marsalforn are the first to fill up, for the past recent years tourists have moved to other areas all over the island. Apart from the traditional hotels, Gozo is now offering accommodations such as holiday homes, flats, farmhouses, bed and breakfast and houses of character.
Muscat was also asked about pre-budget proposals.
He said that the GTA will be proposing a set of measures focusing on the marketing of the island as an all-year-round tourist destination, human resources and the environment.
He said that an industry with a work force made up of mostly foreign workers (70%) should still try to give the full authentic Gozitan experience. GTA will be proposing to the government that foreigners working in Gozo, not only in the catering industry, should be given courses that enable them to integrate themselves more in the Gozitan way of life.
On marketing strategies, Muscat said that GTA is proposing schemes for tourists to come to the island all year round, but especially during the low season.