22 AUGUST 2001

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Gozo tourism prospects look bright

Tourism Minister Michael Refalo and Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono on Monday lauded praise and bright prospects on Gozo's tourism industry while presiding over a certificate award ceremony for students who had successfully followed part-time courses at the Institute for Tourism Studies (ITS) subsidiary in Qala, Gozo.

Minister Refalo, emphasising his encouragement at with the response from Gozitan youth for the forthcoming scholastic year when a doubling of the student complement in tourism studies is expected.

He explains, "I was therefore very pleased to recommend to the ITS Board a suggestion made by my colleague Mrs. Debono that this increase justified a parallel addition in teaching personnel. ITS will therefore recruit a further two assistant lecturers to provide tuition to Gozitan students."

Minister Refalo recalled how, when he addressed MTA’s Gozo Seminar last May, he had said that as a matter of government policy the Malta Tourism Authority should have a permanent administrative and enforcement presence in Gozo. "I am pleased to confirm that MTA has now recruited the necessary personnel and I look forward to MTA being provided with more space to work from at the Banca Giuratale.

"I am indeed highly encouraged and very happy for Gozo’s tourism operators and all Gozitans that the tourism boom which I forecast has actually come about. Success does not grow on trees. Success is the result of hard work and team work."

Dr Refalo thanked Mrs Debono for seeing to the improvement of maritime connections between Malta and Gozo, that utilities and services function well, that roads and the environment are well kept, all of which contribute to increased client satisfaction and repeat business.

He also reminded attendants of the assistance given by Air Malta, through its support of the loss-making helicopter service which provides visitors to Gozo with a fast air link from Malta International Airport - avoiding the problems of driving through Malta and losing a day’s holiday in the process.

He also thanked the Gozo Tourism Association for providing improved services and amenities in their establishments to their foreign and domestic clients.

"My thanks, however, go principally to the Malta Tourism Authority which has been instrumental in engineering the steep increase in visitor numbers to Gozo. The Authority has followed my Ministry’s policy directive and has marketed Gozo extremely effectively as a different, separate but complementary holiday destination to Malta."

Minister Refalo added, "The Authority has brought over hundreds of journalists, special interest travel writers, conference organisers and buyers to give direct and special publicity to Gozo. It has also brought over film crews and organised programme transmissions for Mediaset direct from Gozo."

Dr Refalo also announced that next month, following the successful Mela Verde filming in Malta, MTA’s Office in Milan has succeeded in convincing Miss Carlucci and her team to return and film another programme, this time focussing on Gozo. The Mela Verde team will be in Gozo next month.

The Minister said that he was aware that Frosch’s reduced programme had hit some Gozo hoteliers. "However I also know that many others are showing a substantial increase in the number of visitors from Britain and other markets. This is clearly the result of the performance bonus which I had proposed and announced in May 2000 and which MTA gives to UK tour operators who increase their production to Gozo and also to Gozo’s stronger TV presence and media publicity in many markets."

Minister Refalo said hotel occupancies were but a part of the overall picture. Apartment, farmhouse and villa programmes constituted a substantial segment of visitor accommodation, adding that although August was an excellent month for Gozo, explaining, "The most welcome development this year is that Gozo is not only enjoying an excellent high season but an improved performance throughout."

The Minister warned that before building more hotels the first priority was to ensure increased occupancy levels for existing establishments. Many had invested in refurbishment and others were in the process of doing so.

"Going by what I know about new properties in the pipeline increasing bedstock to enhance the viability of current operations is one thing, but adding new establishments and more beds to what is already there does not make economic sense.

"Until we join Europe tourism supply is finite. The end result till then would only be a dilution of occupancy levels which Gozo’s trade has managed to improve after so many years of trying and waiting. Europe offers great opportunities for Gozo in tourism and in other sectors.

"What Gozo, and indeed Malta needs, is further investment in amenities and facilities. If the Gozo trade, and of course the Gozo Ministry, want to improve Gozo’s chances of success in tourism then it is paramount that they completely commit themselves to support initiatives such as golf courses, sport and culture oriented attractions, marinas, country walks and other environmentally friendly activities.

"We must give our visitors more to do and to see. It is only if we give them a better and more varied product that they would want to stay longer in Gozo."

Minister Refalo said that nearly a thousand youths had attended ITS courses in 2000/2001. New programmes designed to increase and facilitate student throughput will commence in 2001/2002.

"However we are very aware that much remains to be done to train staff, especially waiters in restaurants, especially those who never had the chance to receive formal training. In Gozo the situation is more critical and we will do our utmost to give everyone a chance to train.

"I look forward to the time when only those who receive training will be eligible to work in hospitality establishments."

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt