14 AUGUST 2002
Victor Borg talks to Saviour Balzan about his projects in Gozo and his dream for a heritage park and a golf course at Ta Cenc
Victor Borg is probably Gozos most respected hotelier. In his late fifties, he is a garrulous man and a chain smoker, I meet him in the lounge of the Ta Cenc Hotel, his latest prized acquisition.
"I am not a speculator, I am a hotelier," he tells me as he introduces himself to me. He eyes me with suspicion, knowing all too well that I had written rather vehemently against the original plan to build villas on the ecological plateau by the Federici family.
How did it all start, I asked.
"I started off in 1969. I had imported two mini minors from the UK, which I had bought for Lm30 and Lm50. I sold one to have enough money to repair the other one.
"I started to rent the remaining mini minor to my first clients, who were German. They are old friends now and they still return to Gozo."
He recalls that from then on he never looked back - soon becoming Muscats agent for Gozo.
In 1970 he joined a partnership with a certain Peter Cobb, who owned the Cornucopia Hotel.
"At the time we had a very good Dutch chef."
However, Victor Borg decided to go into catering all alone. He built the Eclipse restaurant purposely constructed for catering functions.
One thing led to another and from apartments, he moved into the car hire business.
With the restaurant doing so well, he took over Cornucopia in 1982 and from 14 rooms he started its expansion in atypical rural flavour to 50 rooms, 11 bungalows and one farmhouse.
Victor Borg recounts how at the time, there were no specific tour operators for Gozo. The only operator was Old Mill holidays. When the company wound up, he set up another partnership with one the companys top employees to form Gozo holidays - a company based in London and catering specifically for the Gozitan market.
He is very proud to have introduced the idea of special weekend breaks for the Maltese - an idea he started even though it only meant that he would break even.
"I was preoccupied with keeping the staff that I had employed in summer busy in the low season. With Maltese visiting Gozo in the autumn, spring and winter months this was possible."
Victor Borg is a stickler for service and says you cannot deliver good hotel service if your employees are part-timers and work for short periods.
In 1992 with his business partner, Saviour Cremona, Victor Borg purchased St Patricks Hotel in Xlendi.
From an eight-room hotel, a new hotel was created on the same footprint, integrating the design of architect Martin Xuereb, who revamped St Patricks Hotel into a 65-room hotel with some very scenic views of the bay and valley.
Yet, Victor Borg had all eyes set on the crown jewel of his dreams, the five star Ta Cenc Hotel.
The story of how Victor Borg took over Ta Cenc makes for compelling
reading. And the story is worth following. He finally bought Ta
Cenc in 1997 from the Italian Federici family.
The food is exquisite; its standard guaranteed by Italians chefs and a dedicated Gozitan team who support them.
Victor Borg talks of having quickly changed some people at the top when he moved in, in order to raise the service standards at the hotel to the levels required by such an establishment. He is also renovating many of the suites and rooms.
But it is not only the restoration work, new leisure centre and rural surroundings with Merilli (Blue Rock Thrush) flying over and the eerie cries of hundreds of Cory Shearwaters in the night that make Ta Cenc such a unique place.
Rather, it is Victor Borgs dream to convert a major part of the Ta Cenc plateau 153 hectares in all into a heritage park.
But it does not stop here - he also has a plan for an 18-hole golf course in a neglected corner of farmland off Wied Sabbara.
The studies he commissioned for the establishment of a heritage park have changed Victor Borgs outlook. The reports have cost close to over quarter of a million pounds. When he talks of the park, he refers to investing in a project that holds a value added return in terms of fostering cultural tourism in Gozo.
He insists on taking me around the area, the size of Valletta and Sliema put together. I know the area well, having spent a day in prison for protesting in 1992 for the planned development by the Federici family of villas and bungalows on the plateau.
"This is my land, but I want to preserve this area. I removed 300 trappers from the area, it was not easy."
There was no need to emphasise the last point to me.
In summer the plateau is an arid and desolate area but after the first rains the area explodes into hues of green, red, blue and yellow.
We approach the area that he plans for golf and he insists that he will not shelve the heritage-park plan even if he is not granted a permit for the golf course.
We drive down to Kantra Bay, the private beach of Ta Cenc and probably the most beautiful private beach on both Islands.
"Imagine coming here away from the bustle and hustle of busy Malta," he said.
Back in the car he explains that he does not believe in mass tourism for Gozo.
"We must go for the cultural tourist, the one that seeks history, culture, nature and serene surroundings. It is not numbers we want, but quality tourists."
He says that he is willing to invest in the heritage park because he believes in its potential.
On the golf course, he insists that he would be very careful not to leave any impact on the natural environment and to use recycled water, cleaned from nitrates, to water the golf course. And he says the experts he has enlisted are not going to sacrifice environmental standards simply to please him.
Finally, he takes me to the quaint but outstanding Ta Cenc palace, an ideal venue for banquets and functions.
"I have had offers for this place, but I prefer to see my dreams come true. I love this work. Why should I just be content with having some six digit figures in my bank account?"
Victor Borg has 250 members of staff. Apart from hotels, farmhouses and apartments he also has a car hire agency and a London-based travel agency.
"I must go now," he says before shaking hands. He then rushes off to a section of the hotel. It is 2pm and it is hot, the temperature is 39C, but Victor Borg insists on seeing to the placing of flagstones next to the new leisure centre.