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Airstrip: Gozo's downfall or deliverance? (1)

The Gozo Business Chamber (GBC) claims that with an "airstrip" Gozo could be sold as a distinct tourist destination.

However, travelling by air to Gozo would still require taking an additional flight out from MIA - more travel time; higher travel cost - unless one could fly in directly from overseas, which would make the "airstrip" an international airport!

This is the purported solution to Gozo's alleged problems - an "airstrip" to provide a constant influx of tourists.

If one cannot already imagine what this would do to Gozo, one need only look at what such a "dream" - as the GBC likes to call it - did to Malta.

It would line a few select pockets and ruin just about anything else that is of value on this gem of an island.

Needless to say, one would have to provide adequate accommodation for these masses of tourists.

Then expect the GBC to start whinging again about the shortage of beds and the need to build more hotels, possibly with some form of subsidy to boot. Fast forward to the third phase of the now familiar cycle - a little blip in the tourist industry, hotels suddenly become unfeasible, close down, and are pulled down and rebuilt into ghastly apartment blocks.

While the tourism industry is important for Gozo, it is not as important as it is made out to be by certain quarters.

Besides, Gozo already has a tourist market right across the channel.

The Maltese tourist does not need an "airstrip" to visit Gozo and, if you ask any Gozitan who works in the industry, the Maltese are by far the preferred sort of tourist.

So, why would one want to invest huge amounts of public funds to build an "airstrip" just to bring second-preference tourists over to Gozo?

Why bother, when one could save all that money, and continue targeting the first preference tourist market?

The answer probably is that there must be more to the "airstrip" than meets the eye.

An "airstrip" may serve some particular interests in Gozo but it does no good to the island or its community.

No benefit whatsoever will rub off on your typical Gozitan. An "airstrip" is not what your typical Gozitan needs or wants.

The Gozitans are a very smart and hard-working lot. Their only problem is that the source of their services and wares is too detached from the market, and this is not only in the geographical sense of the word.

An "airstrip" would do nothing to bridge that gap. What the Gozitans need is the know-how, resources and means to penetrate a market, promote their products and services, and tap the benefits.

The problem is the same as it was decades ago when the streets of Gozo used to be lined with women of all ages making lace items that they would sell typically for 50c to shop owners in Malta who would then display them in their shops with a Lm5 tag.

Those who had access to the market made the most profit with the least effort, while those who had the know-how and put in the effort only got the crumbs.

Such a situation has subsisted, almost unchanged, for decades and there are those who might want it to remain unchanged so they can continue to propose "solutions" that only serve as vehicles to push their hidden agendas.

The "airstrip" is one such "solution" but no one has explained how it would help sell the incredible array of Gozitan wares that remain hidden from all but those who spend years familiarising themselves with this magic island and its people.

Instead of pumping public funds into a useless "airstrip," government would do well to spend the money to provide the means for Gozitans to discover niche markets for their top-class products and services, and to help them bring their wares to such markets at competitive prices.

An added advantage of such a strategy would be the distribution of the benefits among a much wider segment of the Gozitan community.

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