Gozo’s ready for feasting
Traffic crawls into Victoria along the freshly tarmacked road.
At It-Tokk, a lady in a bright pink dress haggles loudly over the price of a fan-powered baseball cap.
The Gozitan capital’s streets are adorned with the colourful banners put up for the annual Santa Marija feast and are alive with the hustle and bustle of hundreds who have crossed over for some time off on the sister isle.
Finally, restaurateurs, shops and hoteliers can look forward to boosting their business, which has slumped over the past months due to roadworks in Malta and in Gozo.
It has been a tradition for hundreds of businesses in Malta to shut down for a few days for the feast of the Assumption of Our Lady – Santa Marija – celebrated on August 15, today. “It makes operational and economic sense since Santa Marija is a very popular feast,” financial analyst John Cassar White said.
“This tradition started by the manufacturing industry years ago, when the heat on the production floor became unbearable because there was no air conditioning.
“Then, other shops and smaller businesses began to follow suit,” he explained.
Quite a few of the Maltese opt to take their vacation in Gozo on their Santa Marija break. Doris Sciberras plans her holiday in Gozo from year to year and has managed to persuade other family members to join her.
“At first, I used to rent a one-bedroom flat in Qbajjar but, soon, that became too small.
“Nowadays, there are about 16 in our group, so it has become more viable to rent a farmhouse.
“It’s also become the time when we all catch up and spend some quality time together,” she said.
Melanie Smith from York, who is holidaying in Gozo for the first time at this time of year, is planning to return.
“We never imagined that our week’s stay in a farmhouse in the small hamlet of Kerċem would include an extra bonanza: the feast in neighbouring Victoria. Although the capital is packed, we’ve loved every minute of it,” she said. “The colourful bunting, the church, decorations and the fireworks will make this trip one to remember.”
Jesmond Aquilina has been religiously travelling to Gozo for the feast of Santa Marija for the past 17 years.
“I first came here on my honeymoon and we returned in subsequent years to celebrate our anniversary. Since our sixth anniversary we’ve been bringing along our twins. It’s a family outing,” he said.
Graziella Fenech does not usually choose to go to Gozo in August. However, circumstances changed this year.
“My partner was going to be on shutdown over Santa Marija as was my brother and his family. There was no way I was going to stay home and not take some time off, so I joined them and shut shop for a few days,” she recounted.
The works, dust and inconvenience of the roadworks are finally subsiding and many in Victoria have breathed a sigh of relief as the road into the capital has been completed.
“We can now look forward to start earning a living again,” said a shop owner on the road leading to the capital.
Over the Santa Marija period, Gozitan hotels, guesthouses and aparthotels tend to thrive.
According to Gozo Tourism Association CEO Joe Muscat, the number of Maltese who chose to stay in such accommodation was 4,137, 4,353 and 4,231 respectively over the past three years.
The total number of nights spent in hotels, guesthouses and aparthotels amounted to 10,265, 11,403 and 10,699 respectively.
Mr Muscat said August had always been considered as the peak of the summer season and it remained so today. Carnival week has been inching closer in popularity.
Mr Muscat said the association did not have any figures of sold or booked beds for this year but hotels were reporting very good accommodation levels, especially from the foreign market.
The unsold gaps were being filled by the domestic market.
The self-catering sector was also showing good occupancy levels.