Another long and successful night in Valletta
The Tourism and Culture Ministry is planning to hold a Notte Bianca in Gozo, possibly at the start of summer, Francis Zammit Dimech said in the wake of another successful event in Valletta last Saturday night.
October's Notte Bianca was no flash in the pan, and the almost repeat performance last weekend proved that the capital's allure to the masses is strong and that the concept of creating activity in the otherwise silent city when the sun sets is a winning formula.
It was also proof that "Malta's future belongs to culture and the arts", according to Dr Zammit Dimech, whose ministry was responsible for the organisation of the event.
Notte Magica, with more of an entertainment and leisure slant than its culture-based predecessor, improved on the previous experience, fine-tuning the package and leaving the public largely satisfied.
While exact attendance figures are expected to be available through a survey that is being carried at the beginning of the week, which would also be assessing feedback and any issues as was the case after Notte Bianca, Dr Zammit Dimech described the event as "massive and comparing well" with its precursor.
Notte Bianca had attracted 77,000 visitors to Valletta, with another 22,000 failing to attend due to traffic congestion.
But these teething problems were solved on Saturday, with increased use of public transport and a strong uptake. More bus lanes and stops were created and, together with the mobile police sections, who managed the traffic, the situation on the roads to Valletta was fluid.
The Park and Ride system was an added bonus and the Blata l-Bajda car park was "full to the brim", Dr Zammit Dimech reported, adding that the shuttle service to Valletta adapted to the demands of the public, who also used the ferry services from Sliema and Cottonera, further reducing congestion.
Parking spaces in the heart of the city for persons with disability were, however, considered to be lacking by those who had to struggle to wheel relatives quite a distance to get to the action. Toilet facilities for persons with disability were also necessary, said the mother of a wheelchair-user, who did not want her daughter to miss out on the event.
Twenty cases of minor casualties, including a fjakkoli burn, an epileptic fit and some incidents related to alcohol abuse, were reported and immediately seen to, the minister said. Auberge de Castille's doors were open to the public once again, with queues till past 1 a.m., while the tourism and culture, and family and social solidarity ministries were also accessible.
With live and contemporary local talent in key locations, earmarked on maps, as well as alfresco dining, Valletta was alive and kicking. Its streets were packed solid, with stagnant crowds sticking in the main thoroughfare, Republic Street, and visitors opting for the side roads for a steadier flow.
Dr Zammit Dimech attributed the thronging of Maltese to the capital by night to the fact that the event allowed them to experience the baroque city in a different light - literally, with the buildings being illuminated and their architectural beauty highlighted. They also loved the festive, outdoors environment, as well as the strong emphasis on culture and the arts, which Malta was starting to capitalise on and add value to.
During Notte Bianca, many catering establishments were not geared up to handle the unexpectedly massive turnout that was on a par with millennium and EU membership celebrations. But last Saturday, they got their act together, and business was "excellent", the minister said. Most restaurants had three covers on the night, and a few additional food stalls were set up between the performance venues to supplement the existing outlets in accordance with the feedback received from Notte Bianca.
Many more shops opened this time round, having more faith in the event, said Dr Zammit Dimech, who was a scrutinising eyewitness from 6.30 p.m. until after 2 a.m. It was evident that they did good business too and that customers did not go shopping in the evening instead of the morning, but decided to do a spot of retail therapy once they were there and in the swing of things, he said.
"Of course, it was up to individual shop owners whether to open or not - but those who did, did well," he said.
This second success was mainly due to the fact that it has created entertainment for the family, when usually, at that time, only nightlife is available, said Philip Fenech, the president of the tourism, hospitality and leisure division of the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises - GRTU.
"It targets a new crowd, which does not normally go out in the evenings, has nowhere to go really, and was craving this," he said.
He augured that such activities would also be taken to other localities to breathe life into newly-developed town centres.