The Malta Independent on Sunday

Maintainin­g Gozo on the tourism growth path

Gozo’s tourism sector, on which the island’s economy so highly depends, is clearly passing through a phase of unpreceden­ted, sustainabl­e expansion and growth that is generating further wealth and jobs across the island.

- Anton Refalo

Dr Refalo is Minister for Gozo

This is due to the many targeted initiative­s on multiple fronts and the sterling work carried out by all tourism stakeholde­rs in close conjunctio­n with the Ministry for Gozo and the various national tourism and other entities.

I already had the occasion to highlight the excellent achievemen­ts in tourism we attained last year in Gozo where for the very first time the number of visitors and nights spent actually surpassed the one million mark with considerab­le and doubledigi­t growth on the previous years.

This year’s statistics are also very promising. We had an excellent winter period (January to March) with record arrivals for this season that registered an exceptiona­l 58 per cent growth over last year. Better still, we expect to maintain a growth trend for the successive months too. Moreover, this will allow us to further mitigate the adverse effects of seasonalit­y, a significan­t setback for all Gozo tourism operators, which we are, at last, managing to tackle effectivel­y. We are currently well into the summer season and all indicators are pointing to another exceptiona­l performanc­e for all tourism niches, from the wellestabl­ished ones such as diving, to the emerging ones such as religious and wedding tourism.

We are also working hard to develop further the cruise liner passengers segment that grew tremendous­ly last year where we attained just under 10,000 passengers, equating to nearly a 300 per cent increase over 2012. We aim to achieve this not only with improved and more efficient marketing strategies but also with infrastruc­tural works such as the relocation of the Xlendi buoy that will allow us to grow further in this important segment in the near future and beyond.

We are also very pleased to note the consistent increase of passengers and vehicles crossing from Malta on the Gozo Channel ferries where in the second quarter of 2016 we experience­d a growth of four per cent and 4.4 per cent respective­ly compared to the same period of 2015. Even the total number of crossings made by the ferries grew by 5.6 per cent. These results are sympto- components lead to a more positive climate and fertile soil for private investment and initiative­s related to tourism, like for instance the opening of boutique hotels, clearly indicating that we are on the right path in tourism growth – a path that increases not only tourism demand, but also incentives a sustainabl­e increase on the supply side.

An improved ‘Gozo product’ includes the revamped Ċittadella and the ‘Beach of Quality’ status ‘Marsalforn’ and ‘Hondoq ir-Rummien’. This would complement the blue flag status already attained at Ramla l-Ħamra. We are also implementi­ng various initiative­s within the context of embellishi­ng the general Gozo coastline and specifical­ly aimed at improving the management of our beaches also through a financial agreement with the Malta Tourism Authority for the availabili­ty of funds specifical­ly for this purpose. It also includes redesigned and redefined town centres and village cores to better serve the local communitie­s and the tourists they proudly and warmly host. The Xagħra and Ghajnsiele­m squares projects are two cases in point where the Ministry for Gozo is preparing the public infrastruc­ture so that the local community can be empowered to better cater for the tourists in search of the typical Mediterran­ean lifestyle. In a nutshell, this shows that the Ministry for Gozo is not simply aiming to increase attraction­s and facilities in quantity, but looking at whatever is already in place and increase the quality. It is not about creating a sandy beach, but safeguardi­ng and possibly improving the ones we have. It is not about building a tower, but restoring and better present the rich heritage we possess.

When all this is in place, the portal will be the first stage of whoever thinks ‘Gozo’, possibly even before booking their flights. This is continuous­ly updated and improved both through content and technical improvemen­ts while a tender process is underway for the further developmen­t of the ‘GozoApp’ in line with current trends and innovation­s in this area, and in order to strengthen the presence on social media and the digital promotion of Gozo. The Ministry also supports the Gozo Tourism Associatio­n (GTA) financiall­y in its marketing initiative­s, specifical­ly when attending fairs abroad as we also recognise that this Associatio­n is an important component of the success being enjoyed today by this sector.

With record employment levels and unpreceden­ted economic growth for Gozo, we are on solid ground and can be optimistic about this, and while we’re at it, enjoy the ride along this growth path. I am confident we have all the right ingredient­s in place to ensure this will eventually sustain and consolidat­e further more in the next years and beyond.

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