Many consider Gozo to be quite a unique ‘tourism destination’ with distinct characteristics that differentiate the product from that of Malta. Over the years, Gozo has been positively perceived as a tranquil; rich in culture and history; rural and scenic; relatively unspoilt; and a good feeling atmosphere – destination.
According to recent Malta Tourism Authority (MTA) surveys, 97% of international visitors to Gozo attribute high positive ratings to the hospitality of Gozitans and their overall stay, and as many as 36%, state their experience exceeded their expectations. A third of the visitors choose Gozo as a result of a previous visit, whereas a further 18% base their choice on recommendations of friends and relatives. This also shows how important it is to ensure that visitors to our islands are provided with the best possible experience.
Another worth reference is that between January and May 2014, Gozo hotels registered an encouraging increase in nights spent by tourists, particularly the 4 star and 5 star hotels, with an increase of 8% and 5% respectively over the same months under review in 2013.
It is a known fact that the tourist accommodation supply in Gozo is different than that of Malta, not only in terms of mix and type, but also in terms of performance. The total number of tourist licensed beds in Gozo is just over 5,000, of which circa 60% are in self-catering type accommodation, which includes farmhouse type units. Within this context, the Ministry for Tourism extended the ECO certification for farmhouse accommodation in 2013 and during May of this year we have awarded the first seven farmhouses in Gozo.
The decision to designate Gozo as an Eco destination was in principle a good one however it was not really supported by the previous administration with adequate planning policies to see the process through to long term sustainability. The development process of an eco-designated Gozo needed to have a proper eco-conservation framework for it to succeed.
The Government is firmly determined to confer Gozo a separate identity and recognise it as a different destination. In the past weeks and to this end, I have launched a consultative committee that is working on a long term Vision for Gozo as a tourism destination on its own right with the ambit of the national tourism strategic plan.
Gozo’s countryside provides tourists with a quiet, peaceful and green ambience. I believe that enhancing the countryside is an essential step, including the development of more countryside footpaths and information thereof, investments in tree planting and landscaping projects, upgrading of existing belvederes and the creation of new ones along the periphery of the attractive Gozitan villages. This will certainly help to strengthen the potential of Agro-tourism in Gozo which is a huge aspect in this sector.
Gozo also offers a number of unique visitor attractions. Amongst the most important are the Ggantija megalitich temples which pre-date the pyramids of Egypt, the mystic and spectacular coastal views at Dwejra, and the Ta’ Pinu sanctuary that has a religious significance which is sufficient to justify pilgrimages to the shrine. The appeal for the Citadel in Rabat is however unmatched, as it remains the most visited attraction in Gozo. I would like to remind that important projects were completed this year, consisting of the creation of four new country walks, three on the island of Gozo and one on the island of Comino, the upgrading of four existing country walks on the island of Gozo and the creation of a heritage Trail in the village of ix-Xaghra.
The seaside resorts of Marsalforn and Xlendi are very important components of the Gozo tourism product.Improving access to the coast and investing in the related facilities is crucially important and in conjunction with the Ministry for Gozo, I am actively working on this aspect also. The coast brings me to a segment which has developed extremely well in Gozo, namely diving, a segment that clearly has the potential for further growth.
Over the past decade, we have witnessed the organisation of various cultural activities in Gozo, more importantly during the winter months. These have registered a significant appeal over a short period of time, such as the Nadur carnival and the Bethlehem village in Ghajnsielem over the Christmas period. Crafts, like lace making and glass blowing also add to the appeal to the destination. Gozo also offers a number of gastronomic experiences which are very important, as we are seeing unprecedented growth across Europe in gastronomic tourism. These are but some of the products that, if well developed, add to the attractiveness of the island and can help boost business, especially during the lean periods, when we mostly need it.
Gozo certainly has the opportunity and potential to expand on existing niche markets, such as heritage tourism, gastronomic, cultural, health, nature and agro tourism. We should consider driving tri-level initiatives for Gozo, involving health, nature and culture, bundled in one package, as this will help addressing seasonality concerns. Cruise passenger business is another segment that has growth potential and is a sector my Ministry have been actively working on over the past months.
Another important niche that the Government is seeking to continue exploiting is the film industry. This business in Gozo is attracting a huge interest of international media especially thanks to latest film production, which, in turn, leads to an optimistic mark to the islands’ tourism sector. This will assist in having an economic injection for both the island and its residents.
But Gozo also handsomely benefits from domestic tourism which is a highly influential factor on the economic success of the island. NSO figures show that the number of domestic tourists arrivals in Gozitan hotels and guesthouses during 2013 increased by 5.7%. Interestingly, domestic travel is relatively high between January and March and so is its average spent. This reinforces the importance to build on the products, characteristics and activities that are found to be more appealing to this market segment, as we may be failing to sufficiently distinguish between international and domestic tourism needs and tend to assume that the tourism product offer will cater for the needs of both.
I commend the Gozo Tourism Association (GTA) for its good work and initiatives to promote Gozo both as an all-year-round and distinct tourist destination. Representing all sectors in the tourism industry including hotels, restaurants, diving centres, self catering establishments, tourist attractions and others, the GTA secures, fosters and promotes the fullest co-operation of the members to ensure tourists enjoy their stay in this beautiful island.
Gozo certainly has the potential for further tourism growth. More than ever, visitors nowadays travel to experience something different, and this requires the identification, and subsequent development, of the competitive strengths of Gozo, that are definitely many. Visitors are also becoming more discerning on choice, as well as on quality. Delivering quality, is not just about offering a qualitative product and service, but also about bringing out the special distinctive features and flavours of the destination. I am confident that if we work together we can make of Gozo a distinct tourism destination of excellence.