When the Gozo Tourism Association (GTA) issued its proposals for the upcoming Budget late last month, eyebrows were raised at the suggestion for a theme park to be developed in Gozo, but CEO Joe Muscat has dismissed concerns, saying that people have a narrow understanding of what a theme park can be.
“Look,” he laughs, when BusinessNow.mt contacts him about it, “people see the word ‘theme’ and think of the worst. I’ll make it clear right away – we do not want some high gaudy structures that will muck up Gozo’s remaining beauty.”
Mr Muscat points out that one such ‘theme park’ already exists.
“It’s a religious theme park, and it draws crowds of locals, Maltese, and foreigners. It’s a tremendous success, and it fits in perfectly with our landscape and our culture.”
He is talking of course about Bethlehem in Għajnsielem, the internationally featured life-size nativity crib that sprung out of some disused fields after local volunteers, NGOs, and the local council teamed up to create something unique.
“We want to see something similar – something that makes sense, that draws in people because it enhances the Gozo we all know and love.”
Mr Muscat explains that much of the tourism-related private investment happening on the island is limited to accommodation and catering establishments.
“We want to see more investment. We want to create ancillary services that support the tourism industry by improving what we offer. We want to create more places people can go and enjoy themselves.”
He invites Gozitans to imagine the possibilities: “We could rehabilitate a disused quarry and house it there.”
He says any theme park would “obviously” not be on the same level as ones found overseas, but would instead be “boutique” and “in keeping with the size of the island”.
“There are theme parks and there are theme parks,” he exclaims.
Mr Muscat says the missing ingredient is direction.
“The imagination’s there. The private sector has lots of ideas, and a desire to invest, and we know that once it is guided towards a given direction, it will move.
“So let us have policies and guidelines in place to guide the investor, to divert a bit from investing only in building blocks of concrete and encroaching on more land.”
Another proposal included in the GTA’s Budget 2022 document is for the eco-tax contribution collected in Gozo to be ring-fenced for projects in Gozo.
The eco-tax contribution is a €0.50 charge per night per tourist, up to a maximum of €5 per tourist stay, that must be collected by all MTA-recognised accommodation establishments and passed on to the Government for use by the public Foundation for Tourism Zone Development to embellish and improve tourist areas around the Islands.
“What we are saying is that the eco-tax collected from Gozitan establishments on Gozo should be used for upgrading the tourism product of Gozo, whether that’s through embellishment, maintenance, or the development of new projects.”
Mr Muscat argues that ringfencing the contribution to be used in the same place it is collected from will encourage businesses to comply with the tax and feel glad to do so.
“Business will be able to see that their efforts are resulting in tangible improvements,” he says. “This tax collected could be used to develop Gozo’s tourism product over and above the Government’s existing ongoing investments.”
Asked for what the money could be spent on, he says the list could be endless.
“There’s the garden in Marsalforn above the carpark, and the Qbajjar promenade. Or, looking away from infrastructure, it could be used to develop professional country walks, or to put up interpretation panels.
“Or, you know,” he says with a smile that can be felt over the phone. “It can be used to help develop the theme park.”
The 68-year-old is said to have flown into Malta on Sunday evening
Government will aim to keep hospital numbers low in an effort to avoid the addition of new restrictions
The project will be funded using money from the National Development and Social Fund