The Government has launched a new strategy for Gozo that is set to shape the island’s development for the next 10 years.
The strategy is the result of extensive public consultation driven by the Gozo Regional Development Authority.
Mario Borg, CEO of the authority, said that the strategy will serve as a platform for a vision for the Gozitan economy to take shape. In this respect, the strategy is but the first step in a process that will see the formulation of a deliverable action plan, its implementation and monitoring.
Presenting the strategy, Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri said that it recognises that the concerns of Gozitans are “no longer about their ability to put food on the table” but about their quality of life.
The strategy is split into eight priority areas.
With regard to urban planning and development, Minister Camilleri said there needs to be balance between progress, construction and Gozo’s traditional characteristics. Saying it is “no coincidence that planning is the first point ,” the Minister insisted that “everything that happens in Gozo must respect the context.”
To that end, he said there must be a renewed determination to use local materials, like globigerina limestone, in new buildings, together with more development of public spaces and a reduction in traffic passing through urban centres.
“We want to put the public, pedestrians, at the centre of our villages,” he said.
Accessibility is the second point, with the Minister pointing to the introduction of a fourth ferry and the fast ferry connecting Gozo to Valletta as evidence of the Government’s commitment to mitigate Gozo’s double insularity. He also touched on the creation of an air link that he says will connect Gozo to Malta and other countries and increase its attractiveness for “quality tourism”.
On rural development, Minister Camilleri made it clear that it is difficult for Gozitan produce to compete with that grown abroad in terms of quantity. However, this opens the door to competition on quality, with one route to success being the linking of every product with the story behind it.
Meanwhile, he made a commitment to increase the provision of new water to farmers in Gozo.
Human development and the progress towards new economic sectors were the fourth and fifth points, with the Minister expressing confidence that as long as the ecosystems and structures necessary to create attractive and fulfilling jobs are present, the trend, particularly prevalent among Gozitans, to seek “an easy and secure job with the Government” could decline.
The growing phenomenon of digital nomads also presents an opportunity for Gozo, with the launch of a second fire optic cable making the island a feasible place to work remotely while enjoying a relaxed Mediterranean experience.
The development of a “Gozo for all seasons” meanwhile touches on the importance of spreading out tourist arrivals to Gozo beyond the summer season, through an investment in new niches particular to the island.
The Minister also called on tourism business operators to invest in their human resources – especially client-facing ones – to ensure that they are familiar with Gozo’s history and points of interest. “The restaurant experience, for example, goes beyond food,” he said.
Observing that tourists who come for cultural activities tend to comeback – as opposed to those visiting for sun and sand that typically seek out different locations in subsequent years – Minister Camilleri said that more investment is needed in Gozo’s cultural offering.
In line with this, the development of Gozo’s cultural patrimony and art is a key objective, for the betterment of the touristic product and residents’ quality of life alike.
Finally, social development is another priority area, with the Minister highlighting successes as well as challenges in the integration of migrants, LGBTIQ+ rights, and the elderly within Gozitan life. To this end, he said that the Government together with the private sector will ramp up investment in education and training as well as facilities to ensure that all vulnerable groups are placed at the heart of the region’s development.
Reacting to the strategy, Gozo Business Chamber president Joseph Borg said that underpinning everything is a need to cultivate a sense of entrepreneurship among Gozitan youths
On his part, Gozo Tourism Association president Joe Muscat said that tourism is a sector with far-reaching importance in which development will have a natural spill-over effect in all others, affecting land use, identity, and social progress.
Various business stakeholders reacted by welcoming the strategy, but calling for concrete commitments for its implementation.
Prime Minister Robert Abela, in comments made at the end of the event, said the Government’s track record is “the strongest testament to our commitment to implement”.
Restating his intention to make Gozo the first region of Malta to become carbon neutral, the Prime Minister said the island will be the motor of a transition to incentivise green buildings, open spaces, electrification of transport.
It described the report as ‘an important cornerstone in the modernization of the construction industry’
The public inquiry commenced in August, concluded in November and was published on Thursday
While some argued that locals don't want low-income jobs, others stated that this is still unacceptable