Gozo lobby says overdevelopment is jeopardising tourism business

Gozo Tourism Association says more Maltese arrivals staying in non-rented accommodation, showing construction policies are fuelling overdevelopment and taking beds away from rental businesses

The Mġarr port in Gozo. Photo: Peter Avramoski/Unsplash
The Mġarr port in Gozo. Photo: Peter Avramoski/Unsplash

Overdevelopment on Gozo is “jeopardising and lambasting” the core of the island’s distinctiveness, Gozo’s lobby of hotelier and tourism operators have declared.

In a document addressed to the government ahead of the annual Budget, the Gozo Tourism Association said the sister island’s tourism industry was at a crossroads over the scale of development that gave the lie to the lip service in national policies proclaiming Gozo as a unique destination.

“This overdevelopment, which is mostly for residential purposes, is harming the character of our little island on which the tourism sector has for years marketed and promoted, as well as having creating trends which are not naturally touristic,” the GTA said.

The Malta Tourism Strategy 2021-2030 states that the Island should continue building on its distinctiveness and embracing the principles of climate friendly tourism.

But the GTA has taken issue with the said direction. “Can we effectively say that tourism in Gozo presently is able to move forward in line with the above policies?”

Gozo is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels of tourism this year, but figures for the first half of 2023 point at a 4% drop in collective accommodation over 2019, despite a 9% increase in domestic arrivals. The NSO says 42% of total domestic tourists from Malta stay in non-rented accommodation. “This shows that incentives aimed towards construction and real estate were instrumental in increased non-rented bed stock. This has created competition with rented beds in the touristic sector,” the GTA said.

The GTA said it wants to remove all fiscal incentives on sale of buildings and land for development into apartments; retain incentives on sale and purchase of properties in UCA where purchasers guarantee to restore a property without subdivision; extend these incentives for all vernacular and post-war properties, including UCA, where buyer undertakes to preserve the integrity of the property, respecting and not exceeding the surrounding traditional village heights; and introduced a fiscal incentive scheme to encourage the restoration and conversion of existing traditional properties and bring them back to life as residential homes, boutique hotels.

“The GTA does not want Gozo to become another smaller Malta. Gozo should remain an island of villages. Therefore, planning and environmental policies that are applicable for Malta are not necessarily fitting for Gozo,” the GTA said.

The GTA said it wants planning and environmental policies that cater for the needs of Gozo, built in consultation with Gozitan stakeholders. “The environment and the natural characteristics of Gozo are the primary propositions in the touristic offer of our little island. Apart from presenting an organised, clean and well-maintained destination, the upkeep and the protection of our environment signifies and ensures that Gozo will be an island where islanders live, work and prosper within a strong thriving, healthy community.”

Tourism and related services account for over 10% of employment on Gozo, but the GTA complained that Gozitans no longer seem interested to pursue a career in the tourism sector. This gap in skills has been mitigated by the influx of foreign workers, but the GTA said such workers “lessen the authenticity of the touristic offer” and create new challenges over language, lack of cultural heritage, integration and other social issues.

The GTA said it wants a grant scheme for local students who opt to work during the weekends or their holidays in Gozitan tourism establishments; English and Maltese-language courses for foreign workers; widen ITS training courses for Gozo; and also “ensure that the public sector is no longer in competition with the private sector” – referring to the government jobs offered to Gozitan workers that takes them off the labour market.