The Malta Independent 5 June 2020, Friday

Tourism – Gozo’s endemic resilience

Justyne Caruana Sunday, 15 September 2019, 11:00 Last update: about 10 months ago

"The world of the tourist - and the world of everyone else - are often side-by-side. Visitors feel at home when they can actually live among the people they visit."  This is a quotation from the World Tourism Organisation and last week I had the pleasure of addressing a group of academics and politicians at an international economic forum in Krynica, Poland. We discussed - and shared - experiences in the tourist industry and I spoke with pride about our prolific experience in the sector that is considered to be one of the main drivers of economic activity in Malta and Gozo.


 It gives me pride at such international events to be part of a government which, over a span of six years, has succeeded in pushing our islands further up on the international platform and has been one of the best performing economies in the Eurozone in terms of economic growth, job creation and fiscal management. There is no doubt tourism has played a very important role in this economic boom, with the number of jobs created directly or indirectly in this industry having reached an all-time high.

 It is estimated that one in every seven jobs in Malta is linked to tourism expenditure.


Crucial role

From day one, the Labour Government has been well-aware that tourism plays a crucial role in our economic and social development. It is also aware of how fickle, competitive and sensitive it can be in a world where a traveller's loyalties switch from one destination to another at the bat of an eyelid. The government is therefore constantly on the look-out, adopting active and innovative policies to promote sustainable and inclusive tourism and minimising negative social, cultural and environmental impacts as much as possible.

 In the past few years, tourism in Gozo has become a key contributor to the development of the island and has made an impact on the national economy. Gozo is home to almost seven per cent of the Maltese Islands' population and creates almost five per cent of our national economic value added. These contributions are by far higher than those for similar island regions in the EU and are proof of Gozo's importance to the national economic strengths. It is also interesting to note that 50 per cent of Gozo's businesses are involved in the tourist industry.

Gozo's tourism industry has had such an impact on the economy for a variety of reasons. The resilience, hard work and entrepreneurial spirit of our people, coupled with the full cooperation of all the stake-holders involved, are tangible and have borne fruit. The Gozo Ministry's initiatives have found cooperation on all fronts and, as a result, the strategy, policies and vision for Gozo as a unique and vibrant destination is fast becoming a reality.


Gozo's own brand

We are constantly aware of the fundamental ingredients that make our island so distinctive and attractive. We are blessed with natural beauty: the island is greener than Malta and has retained its characteristic old-world feel. The careful embellishment and restoration of its unique buildings and village cores, unspoilt countryside, scenic coastlines and unique diving spots have made our tiny island a unique and welcoming destination.

Gozo's tourism industry has morphed from a day-tripper summer months' destination into one that is now long- stay, all-year-round. These days, most visitors seek to immerse themselves into a cultural experience based on the island's historical, artistic and natural environment and choose to stay in boutique hotels and renovated farmhouses. In fact, a survey carried out by the Malta Tourism Authority on tourism in Gozo showed that 41.5 per cent of the tourists opting for a Gozo-based visit were repeat visitors, mostly couples, who had visited the island several times. One in four visitors chose Gozo for its cultural heritage and mainly visited historical and religious sites.

These figures are encouraging, but we strive to aim higher. As Minister for Gozo, it is my resolve to continue my quest to place Gozo as the top destination in the Maltese Islands. Part of this quest is the restoration, upkeep and embellishment of all the island's towns, villages, historical buildings, roads, shorelines and countryside. The recent restoration of the Cittadella, and adding life within its walls, serves as a perfect example of sustainable cultural regeneration.


Sustaining success

Building on this success, the Gozo Ministry is investing heavily in the upkeep and restoration of other historical sites that will help in the preservation of Gozo's identity and tradition. Recently, my Ministry has acquired Għar Gerduf - a burial site dating back to the Roman era close to Gozo's capital Victoria. The establishment of a regional museum, the restoration of the island's oldest surviving windmill in Xewkija and work on the Ġordan Lighthouse are other ongoing projects which, together with the upgrading of village centres, will further enhance our tourism product and stimulate private sector investment.

A full calendar of events is also part of the Gozo Ministry's efforts to attract more visitors to the island. Our intention is to improve the quality of the visitor's experience, particularly in the shoulder months, while at the same time alleviating the undue pressures that used to be brought about by seasonal tourism flows.

My praise for Gozo's amazing NGOs will never cease. These voluntary organisations are key contributors to the island's social, cultural and economic successes and their spirit of innovation and generosity are of great importance to the protection and promotion of Gozo's historical, religious and cultural heritage. In recognition of their dedicated work, my Ministry has launched the Non-Governmental Organisations Assistance Scheme that is designed to support and facilitate the initiatives taken up by these NGOs on a regular basis over the past two years.


Our challenges

Success, however, brings its own challenges. We are fully aware that the steady increase in Gozo's tourism figures calls for further infrastructural and services upgrades. We have taken up the challenge and, despite all the inevitable setbacks, we have moved on with a long-term plan without limiting our projects to popular areas.

Gozitans have long been pleading for action regarding their own immediate needs and had not been heeded by previous administrations. The backlog that had accumulated for decades had to be tackled through the better and additional deployment of resources - human, financial and logistic. Unfortunately, this was not as logical as merely building on any work already done, but necessitated the bold decision to start from scratch. It is no surprise that criticism has come from those same sources that had lived in a long inertia and all they are capable of doing now is orchestrating negative campaigns.

The Gozo Ministry takes all this in its stride and is likewise fully committed to taking up the additional challenge of our own making: the steady increase in tourist numbers. Indeed, success creates the need to work harder and, despite all the setbacks, this is precisely what we are doing.

The future of Gozo is to be one where our beloved island will serve as a showcase for small island development, providing the right blend of synergetic interaction between traditional and new economic activities. We have moved away from the traditional lethargy and inertia or - at best - cosmetic solutions. Our aim is quality over quantity and, most of all, we intend to expose even better the characteristic resilience of Gozitans!

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