Sustaining sports tourism
Dr Refalo is Minister for Gozo
Mirroring the success on a national level, these last two years have been exceptional for Gozo in terms of tourism. Recent figures show that the traditional mid-August festivity draws large numbers of Maltese and foreign visitors to the island. Preliminary figures indicate a record number of passengers crossed the channel, amounting to around nine per cent more than the same weekend last year, with most accommodation providers reporting full occupancy well in advance. For some, such news would be enough to start rounds of self-congratulations. Not us, as we see this only as a spring board to further success.
However, we made it our goal to raise the bar and aim one step further. To do this new growth sectors need to be explored, nurtured, and supported. It is common knowledge that our islands’ climate is the basis of many of our activities and that tourism is definitively one sector whose success is due to this favourable state of nature. However, for many years this fact was not used as a marketing tool; indeed we believe that the island is an ideal destination to attract sporting activities and events to Malta and Gozo.
The first steps that have to be taken to develop this niche is to understand that sport tourism requires a holistic vision. It is not enough to come up with piece meal solutions or to make sporadic visits to this niche without adequate planning and coordination. Similar to other areas, to successfully compete in the growing sport tourism market, it is crucial to thoroughly understand the benefits and impacts of sport tourism, of the process of bidding for events, and other elements involved in the planning and hosting of a sport event.
To ensure sustainability, it is fundamental that the sporting climate on a local level is a vibrant one. One cannot market something when internally demand is low. Therefore, the Ministry for Gozo has actively encouraged and supported the development of local talent. For example, last year a 10-yearplan entitled ‘project 2025’ was formulated to support local sports clubs and athletes. We have also strengthened the sport academy where young persons can engage in a variety of sports over all months of the year.
The organization of an international event always draws attention. This was the case when we successfully organized the UEFA under 17 Championship last year. This proved a good opportunity to broaden our contacts and it was an excellent window to exhibit our facilities and the attractive characteristics of Gozo.
We have also either directly organized or actively supported other non-mainstream sports activities. Two examples are the Air Modelling show which took place at the Gozo Heliport and the Yacht Modelling show which was organized in Xlendi. We have also helped the Gozo Motocross Association to relaunch the championship in Gozo, something that is attracting local visitors to the island.
After numerous years of empty promises, the Gozo natatorium is close to becoming a reality. Indeed, during the last month the evaluation stage started to look into the merit of the bidder. Once completed, it will provide a stateof-the-art Natatorium Complex to the local and international sports industry as well as the local community and general public.
Inevitably, part of our motivation to look into sport tourism is economic, that is, this is a strong niche market which is set to grow as well as offer diversification of our tourist product. However, sport tourism inevitably affects more than the economy. By promoting sport tourism, we also aim to promote the health benefit of sports to the local population. This will be a win-win situation.