Sunday, 25 August 2019, 11:30 Last update: about 10 hours ago
The introduction of a fast ferry service, an air link and the current fourth ferry will improve tourism in Gozo and resolve connectivity issues, Gozo Tourism Association CEO Joe Muscat told The Malta Independent on Sunday, adding that it puts into question the necessity for a tunnel for vehicles.
The introduction of a fourth Gozo ferry has currently resulted in around 1.5 ferry trips per hour, which is some 74 trips a day.
Gozo is being well-served by the introduction of the fourth ferry, Muscat explained, adding that it has significantly reduced the queues experienced by both locals and tourists wanting to travel between the two islands. In addition, he said, tourists no longer have to be driven to the terminals considerably beforehand, due to fears in the past of long waiting times.
The Association had been asking for the introduction of a fourth ferry for a number of years, said Muscat, adding that with its introduction the tourism sector is better served than ever before. “As an island we are really connected. The fourth ferry has resulted in negligible queues now. During the Santa Marija weekend, queues were almost non-existent. It filled the need for sea connectivity,” he said.
“As a result of this introduction, we didn’t lose any work. In the past, the Maltese would arrive near the Red Tower, would see the long queue and – not wanting to spend half a day waiting in a queue in the hot sun – would turn around and go home.”
Commuting between the islands for Gozitans – which has also been an issue in the past – has now, to some extent, been resolved. The fourth ferry is like a floating tunnel, said Muscat, adding that now a passenger goes to the terminal and only has to wait a few minutes for the next ferry, he said. He spoke of the need for the fourth ferry to continue running during the winter months and for it to be permanent and on the same level as the other Gozo channel ferries, improving accessibility.
Some days ago, Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana announced that the Gozo Channel is to retain the recently chartered fourth ferry until a new call for tenders for a replacement is decided, saying that the fourth ferry is here to stay.
Asked about the idea of other ferry terminals at, for example, Sa Maison as there were in the past, Muscat said that, as a tourism destination, connectivity is extremely important. “We are for all improved connectivity.
“The fourth ferry helped with the need but we should not stop there. We are after the fast ferry service which would be from Mġarr to Valletta. We need this service from Gozo to Malta as it will help Gozitans who work in Malta.” He did mention, however, that due to the marina, the Sa Maison point is no longer possible.
The helicopter air link between the two islands is also important, said Muscat, as it is another way for people to travel. “We want to see it reintroduced as quickly as possible.”
He said that tourists are making more frequent visits to the islands but for shorter stays, adding that time is key and the quicker they can move around, the better. “Having such connectivity means we would stand to gain through bed nights as well, and a better chance for improved competitive prices.”
Asked if – with the fourth ferry and a fast ferry service – a permanent tunnel link is needed Muscat said: “As an association that looks at the interests of the tourism sector, we believe that once Gozo is connected to Malta through the two types of sea connection services and the air link we do not see the necessity for the tunnel.
“If there is to be a tunnel we believe it should be part of an integrated mass transportation system, like a tube system. If you are going to build this tunnel, give us the ability to commute from Victoria to Valletta, rather than from Victoria to L-Imbordin, from where we would have to navigate through all that traffic in Malta.
“If we are going to build a tunnel, let us make it part of a holistic mass transportation system.”
Asked how he believes a tunnel would affect tourism in Gozo, he said that while the tunnel as is proposed for cars could help certain sectors in Gozo – such as manufacturing and business – accommodation establishments fear losing bed nights as the island will end up being a day trip destination.
“We might have more tourists coming during the day and going back to Malta in the evening due to this form of connectivity. Crossing between the islands by boat is part of the experience of staying on an island. Many of the tourists who come here never have been on a ferry before, and it is part of the holiday experience.”
He pointed out that Gozo is a small island and asked how many more cars it could take. “We are already experiencing a permanent link between Malta and Gozo, but by sea,” he said.
Gozo Business Chamber says tunnel is needed
Speaking with The Malta Independent on Sunday, Gozo Business Chamber President Joseph Borg said that the Chamber has been calling for a fourth vessel for several years, and so its addition is very much welcomed.
It was necessary, he said, adding that it was the best short-term solution to the problem of connectivity between the islands. Gozo is busy all year round nowadays, said Mr Borg. “When talking of six million passengers and nearly two million vehicles making the trip each year, it is a major route in the islands and one that needs to be catered for. Because of this increase in passengers, the fourth vessel was – and is – necessary.”
He added that he was pleased to note that the addition of a fourth ferry is a permanent one.
He said that a better choice in terms of the vessel itself could have been made: “But I think that this is what was available. It is good that it makes the crossing in a faster time and takes many cars, but it is not good in the sense that it doesn’t have the facilities required for people with a disability.”
When Mr Borg was asked about a potential fast-ferry service, and how he thought that would help Gozo, he said that every attempt to introduce an additional service helps, adding that the Chamber has been pushing for such a ferry service, as well as an air link.
In response to a question as to whether – with the fourth ferry and the potential air-link and fast ferry service – he believes a tunnel would still be needed, Mr Borg said that the tunnel is the best option. “Before, I used to wait around one hour 45 minutes and this morning I made it in an hour. But the journey could be made in 10 minutes: the tunnel is always the best solution and for us it is needed.”