21 NOVEMBER 2001

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Marketing Gozo

According to Gozo Minister Giovanna Debono, Gozo’s distinct and particular identity should be communicated to the world in order to boost the island’s tourism potential. Following are extracts from her address to the Gozo Tourism Association seminar: "Island culture and tourism – marketing our future" in which she also speaks about cultural tourism and seasonality.

It is with a great sense of satisfaction that we note how increasingly the country discusses and debates issues that regard this industry. Certainly merit goes to efforts made in the past couple of years by the Malta Tourism Authority and the Gozo Tourism Association.
One thing that has certainly been confirmed in most addresses in today’s seminar is the re-iteration of the importance of this industry to our country’s economy. Malta and Gozo depend on tourism not only for the employees directly working in it, but also for the less visible number of persons who depend indirectly on the tourism industry for their livelihood.
It is thus our duty to safeguard and strengthen this industry for the benefit of the country and for future generations. The need for more concentration of our efforts to better both our product and our service has strongly come out in today’s seminar. We have to diversify our markets, create new demands whilst providing a supply with a quality that matches or rather, surpasses, the image we sell.
In times like these, when we are planning and implementing policies to diversify our tourism markets, the notion of Cultural Tourism becomes even more important.
Over the years, Malta and Gozo have attracted quite a substantial rate of tourists that visit the islands on the promise of "sun, sea and fun". Though these assets have rendered economically, they have restricted our tourism industry to a concentration of a peak four months with the remaining eight months struggling hard to survive. We are indeed still far away from the desired hotel occupancy rates, especially those for Gozo, during the winter months.
That policy, which established a good name for Malta’s very competitive destination price-wise, especially for the summer months, has left it wanting for a better spread of the influx of foreign visitors. An indirect result of this led to the tourism industry being taken seriously by a few, but not so seriously by many others.
I believe that to strengthen this industry of fundamental importance to our economy, we have to go through a culture change. We have to instil a recognisance that Tourism is an industry that will indeed provide a livelihood all year round if planned properly, if the correct strategies are designed and if the public and private sectors work together towards achieving such a goal.
A collaboration between parties that if tackled properly should carve a reputable name for Malta and Gozo is that for Cultural Tourism.
Our islands can indeed boast of the most ancient free-standing structure in the world, temples that pre-date the so-very publicised Egyptian pyramids! Our 7,000-year old history lends itself so graciously to the marketing of a destination of history, culture and tradition. Malta and Gozo, with their prehistoric, Roman, Baroque and modern settings provide a perfect hideaway for all culture-lovers in the world.
Our strategic geographic position, set indeed between the crossroads of North and South, East and West of the sea that witnessed such polarities as wars, famine, piracy and an explosion of trade and art is surely a strong selling point to the world over.
But we have to be pro-active and innovative. We have to create a new image for our Islands. We have to communicate our distinct and particular identity to the world.
We cannot depend any more on the concentration of tourists in the peak season. We have to implement strategies that distribute the influx throughout the year. We have to work hand in hand with interested parties to come up with an excellent product complemented by an excellent service.
We have a major asset. Being islanders has made us strive even harder than living on the mainland. Our ways of living and being, fabricated by adversities and disadvantages, have structured us and discovered in us characteristics so very particular. We are the protagonists of the forces created by our island-nature, moulding in us a different life-style, different characteristics and thus a distinct culture and customs.
We are indeed fortunate to have saved such valuable assets. It is up to us now to bring about in the most effective way possible the valorisation of our unique cultural and folkloristic heritage.
Indeed, Culture is an excellent product. Gozo alone, has so much to offer in this regard. Our less urbanised and less built up areas, when compared to Malta, affect our development of folklore, crafts and traditions, creating a "still in time" atmosphere that foreign visitors find so appealing. We can certainly better exploit and valorise our cultural heritage.
Our ancient borgos, our winding narrow alleys, our spectacular rural settings, our countryside chapels and baroque masterpieces delight the history-craving visitor who is amazed at the rich cultural vein found on such a tiny island.
Some of our literary, musical and theatrical organisations can indeed boast of high standard events with internationally acclaimed performers that can attract a potentially further specialised market.
We have to collectively foster these realities that make us who we are. We have to strengthen and maintain the structures that permit the evolution of such facets of our distinct identity. We have to plan ahead, create strategies, projects and initiatives that justify and permit Culture as a strong seller.
Cultural Tourism is indeed a very potential market to tap. We can establish our island as a perfect destination for a cultural break.
I earnestly believe that such is the way forward. All this through a collaboration between not only my Ministry and the Ministry of Tourism together with the MTA and the GTA, but also with other entities such as Local Councils and non-governmental organisations. We all have to work together for the benefit of Gozo’s main economic pillar.
The creation of this image for Gozo however, cannot exist in a vacuum. We have to sell our product. We have to promote the notion of ‘Gozo – island of culture’. We have to implement the marketing mix to come out in full force through traditional means and the new ones.
To conclude, I once again reiterate the necessity of strengthening our present industry but further design new good quality products, good quality services and the heavy flow of communication throughout the potential markets. I strongly believe that if we focus our resources upon the individualisation, initiation and campaigning for specialised interest travel and niche markets this industry will realise a stronger potential for Gozo.

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