The Upper Reach team met with the Minister of Gozo in order to discuss the future plans for the promotion of the island in the UK. Dr. Refalo described the importance of developing the island in a sustainable and eco-friendly manner and the niche markets that they want to attract. This is a year of celebration for Malta and it is also important to highlight that is one of the countries with the fastest growing economy in the EU. What do you think is the impact of the celebrations and the growth of the country for Gozo specifically?
Gozo is a small island within an island. Therefore, we have many challenges in developing our economy. We need to instate the right incentives in order to increase foreign investment. We believe that Gozo must develop its own economic identity and focus on diversification. Tourism alone is not enough for us to develop our economy. In addition, we must diversify our tourism offer beyond the “sun and sea” and find specific niche markets. For example, we are looking forward to developing a new marina. We have already issued a call for expressions of interest, followed by a request for proposals from the entrepreneurs selected from amongst those who submitted their expression of interest. We want this marina to host smaller ships and not large cruise liners that frequent Malta. We are looking for quality and not quantity.
Gozo´s economic viability depends heavily on accessibility not only in terms of transportation but also in terms of telecommunications. For example, we have only one fiber optic cable on the island. We must address this fact in order to increase IT connections in order to attract more investment. We managed to attract the first IT company to establish itself in Gozo. We expect to receive more IT companies in the island. The previous administration had no plans for alternative fiber optic cables. We have invested 200,000 Euros to conduct a study to evaluate how to install a second fiber optic cable. We are working with a French company that has the right equipment to do this job.
In terms of transportation, we are putting in place incentives to have air transportation between Gozo and Malta. For many years we have been connected only through sea. Now we want to establish the right infrastructure, green infrastructure, to have small aircrafts connecting Gozo to Malta and Sicily. We are not only conducting a socioeconomic study but also an environmental study to evaluate the viability of this project. . This is linked to the fact that Gozo is looking to become an “Eco-island” by 2020. What are the main challenges you must address to achieve that goal?
We believe in sustainable development and sustainable transport. The concept of ecotourism was introduced by the previous administration. We are developing the concept of an eco-island from a different angle. For example, we believe that in order to achieve that goal we must educate our people, especially our children. We must change the mentality of our people and now they understand the importance of ecotourism. In addition, we are making efforts to highlight and support our local culture. We are very rich in this matter and this ministry is very supportive of the local culture. Gozo must be the city of art and the city of culture. In order to achieve this we must align the interest of the government and society as a whole. For example, we have set up a Monument Committee to protecting and promoting our statues. Lastly, we must keep Gozo clean!
We have also attracted a film studio in Gozo and not in Malta. Another important thing to highlight is the plans to subsidize the ferry tickets for Maltese tourists during our low season. Your Ministry has just partnered with the UK Travel Foundation and launched a marketing campaign under the subject: “Make holidays green in Malta”. What is your assessment of this effort?
I believe that there is more potential for collaboration. As a ministry, we want to increase our collaboration in order to promote green holidays. If we manage to bring more British tourists, we will be able to develop our economy further. In addition, we believe in religious tourism and are working in repairing our temples (churches). Gozo has plenty patrimonial objects that attract many tourists every year. The title of our report will be “Uniquely Maltese”. How would you like to see Gozo featured in this sense?
Gozo is an island of dreams. This is where dreams come true.