Gozo Minister highlights small island tourism at Gozo International Tourism Conference

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Gozo Minister highlights small island tourism at Gozo International Tourism ConferenceThe Gozo Tourism Association in collaboration with the Ministry for Tourism and the Malta Tourism Authority, organised the First International Tourism Conference on Gozo, entitled ‘The Image and Sustainability of Island Tourist Destinations.’

Present for the event was among others, the Minister for Gozo Dr Anton Refalo, who opened his speech by quoting what travel writer Karisa Klee, wrote in a recent blog, “I almost didn’t go to Gozo’ but, thank goodness I did, because my day on the small Mediterranean island may have been my favourite day in Malta. My trip to Malta’s smaller sister island was different – I was immediately drawn to this beautiful, quaint slice of paradise. The atmosphere is more relaxed, the locals’ way of life is slower and, of course, the island is simply stunning!”

Dr Refalo said, “as natives of this small island, we are proud when tourists we meet tell us that Gozo is positively different from other destinations they have been to and that they gladly return to a place they feel is ‘home.’

“Indeed, many have made it their home after their first holiday here, attracted by a way of life that has been lost elsewhere. Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt toured the southern Mediterranean to choose a suitable location for their film ‘By The Sea,’ but when they approached the Mgarr ix-Xini creek, they knew it had to be Gozo.”

The Minister said that the Ministry for Gozo believes that Gozo is an interesting proposition to the discerning traveller. “As more people are attracted to destinations that offer a competitive edge, based on the kind of experience gained, Gozo gains more relevance as a holiday destination.”

“Gozo is a place of natural beauty, great hospitality, tempting food…and no fast lanes. Gozo stands for all this – a fun holiday in a relaxed way, and this is what we promote,” the Minister said.

“The island is promoted by the Government and its entities, mainly the Malta Tourism Authority and the Ministry for Gozo. Efforts to promote Gozo are commendable and genuine. However, this is not enough. We need to improve on 3 main items: – Focus, Integration and Consistency.”

These 3 fundamentals of marketing help to drive the message more effectively in a very noisy world, said Dr Refalo.

“While sustaining campaigns in select, traditional media, in 2014 and through 2015, we invested in digital promotion and used platforms like Tripadvisor and Travelzoo to increase destination awareness.

“We created dedicated destination pages, links to the vistigozo site and links to package travel deals to the island put forward by industry operators and linking to their booking portals.”

The Minister explained how the visitgozo website was redesigned to make it mobile friendly – “we are aware that globally mobile data traffic will grow 10-fold from 2014 to 2019. We monitor these market trends and develop content that helps drive traffic to the visitgozo site in line with the objective of increasing destination awareness.”

An example, the Minister said, is “the upbeat 20-second video we produced to promote Carnival in Gozo. It was posted on social media and viewed by 52,000 unique visitors in the two weeks preceding carnival.”

“We hosted journalists and bloggers to promote niche segments, including adventure travel and MICE travel and we coordinated marketing campaigns with MTA’s foreign offices in key markets.”

The Minister said that “in line with promoting rural tourism and the unique experience for the traveller in terms of contact with locals and the very roots of the island, we organised an experimental networking workshop led by rural tourism consultant Carole Favre.”

“We invited operators of boutique accommodation, farmers, artisans and restaurant owners to encourage them to promote all that is local and genuine and to increase awareness of their potential in enhancing the visitor’s experience of the island. In line with this, we promoted Gozo in specialised media, including Responsible Travel and Sidetracked,” said Dr Refalo.

“We developed a Gozo cultural calendar, promoting the island with the top 10 festivals and established events,” the Minister added. “During 2015 we will be completing an EU funded digital marketing campaign, focusing on Gozo as a unique island travel proposition among target segments, with the objective of reaching travellers who stay longer and spend more.”

Dr Refalo explained how promotion is sustained in travel fairs abroad, where the Ministry teams up with MTA to promote Gozo. Other travel fairs are also attended by the GTA with the full support of the Ministry.

“We support the cruise line industry in promoting Gozo as a boutique cruise line destination; we have 23 calls scheduled for this year. We believe that even if they are day visitors, cruise passengers are potential return tourists and exposing them to the island through a positive experience is an opportunity not to be missed.”

Local tourism is also promoted through local media campaigns, TV content development, special travel weekends and events weekends focusing on sports and cultural events, among others, said the Minister.

Dr Refalo said that the way forward is “first and foremost the Ministry for Gozo together with the Ministry for Tourism as well as the combined efforts of all stakeholders, especially GTA have, as a sine qua non obligation to implement the specific strategy of the National Tourism Policy as regards Gozo.

“The Raison D’Etre, or indeed our overall objective in this implementation, will be to increase arrival and bednights in Gozo.”

The Minister explained that this will be done through increasing destination awareness. Coordinating resources within MGOZ and MTA. “I truly believe that an integrated marketing campaign with a focus message is imperative. Invest in market knowledge for the planning and actuation of this integrated marketing campaign.”

There is also the need to continue to invest in product development to attract a high quality tourist, Dr Refalo said. “We believe that Gozo cannot be experienced in one day, and the current statistical imbalance of day trippers call for a re-visiting of the National marketing strategy, as it has been implemented today.”

“In line with our mission statement in tourism, we are committed first of all to continue promoting this island. We are committed also to strengthen this economic segment that contributes in no small way to the development of this beautiful island,” the Minister said.

“Finally, we must send a clear message to investors that they have our full and unconditional support. We do understand that there are challenges, but let us work together holistically, as stakeholders to keep turning these challenges into opportunities,” concluded the Minister for Gozo.

Photograph: MGOZ/George Scerri

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