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Permanent link to success - Kirsty Agius

“To be or not to be, that is the question,” Prince Hamlet had said. Maltese citizens are making a similar albeit slightly different question in respect of the permanent link between Malta and Gozo: “To do or not to do.”

The construction of a permanent link between the Maltese islands has been a hotly debated topic that has divided public opinion since the 1970s when then prime minister Duminku Mintoff instigated the discussion.

Such a link would have had widespread and far-reaching effects on the economic, social and environmental fabric of Gozitan life. In my dissertation, I focused on the possible effects a permanent link might have on Gozitan citizens and the business community and the impact of economic growth on Gozo’s hospitality and tourism industries. Their business growth prospects were further analysed.

I focused on exploring four key variables - economic growth, convenience, employment and the environment - to cover key sectors in Gozitan life bound to be impacted by the construction of a permanent link.

I looked into primary and secondary sources of data where the effects of existing permanent links around the world on the four identified constructs were examined.

Interestingly enough, I found that the majority of Gozitan respondents and an even greater majority of interviewees believed that Gozo stands to gain handsomely from having a permanent link in terms of more tourist arrivals, more nights spent in Gozo by visitors, more economic growth, more jobs and the possibility of relocation businesses to Gozo.

However, the study also showed that all respondents agreed that Gozo would have to pay the price for the increase in internal and external tourism as noise and air pollution are, according to them, bound to increase.

The results indicate that entrepreneurs and the Gozitan public strongly believe that the building of a permanent link would boost tourism on the smaller island. A vast majority of both sets of respondents were overwhelmingly in agreement that the permanent link will lead to an increase in internal and external tourism.

Entrepreneurs strongly believe that the hospitality sectors would be positively impacted by the greater influx of tourists and visitors generated by the permanent link. Interviewees pointed out the fact that with a permanent link tourists would not have to leave early from Gozo because it would become more convenient for them to cross over to Malta at a time of their choosing.

They insisted that a permanent link would encourage visitors to stay a night longer in Gozo because they would no longer depend solely on a ferry schedule or the vagaries of the weather. Moreover, the airport would be much more conveniently reachable.

Malta and, ultimately, also Gozo stand to gain economically with this development

Positive responses to the statements centred round the convenience construct were the highest for all four variables.

Both sets of results strongly indicate that the easier, less time-consuming, more convenient, less stressful travelling a permanent link would facilitate could be the greatest selling point for those who argue in favour of the construction of such a link.

Very high proportions of positive responses strongly indicated that both sets of respondents were convinced of the fact that a permanent link would boost trade and economic activity, especially in the accommodation, catering and property sectors in Gozo.

However, some interviewees were concerned about the fact that if Maltese businesses were to start to operate in Gozo, competition would become stronger and some Gozitan enterprises might find it difficult to compete with larger firms. On the other hand, most of the participants acknowledged that air and noise pollution and household waste pollution are likely to increase.

On the strength of these findings, I feel that some initiatives would help push and reinforce moves that can lead the authorities to expedite the construction of the permanent link.

Intense lobbying of MPS belonging to the two major political parties by influential organisations, such as the Gozo Business Chamber and the Gozo University Group, should be made to encourage the building of a permanent link.  Furthermore, since this a wide-ranging, far-reaching topic, discussions should be set up with all political parties so there could be general consensus.

Educational campaigns on traditional and social media should be launched to illustrate the pros and cons of having a permanent link. Consultations with business owners and entrepreneurs should be held in an effort to attract investment to Gozo.

Moreover, incentives by both the national government and local councils should be launched to attract more Maltese and foreign tourists to Gozo throughout the year and, thus, defeat the drawback of seasonality.

Whether or not to go ahead with the permanent link between Malta and Gozo is a decision that the government needs to make. However, it is evident that Malta and, ultimately, also Gozo stand to gain economically with this development.

Kirsty Agius is an MBA (Exec.) graduate whose thesis focused on how a permanent link could contribute to business growth for Gozo’s hospitality and tourism industry.

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