Many Maltese are convinced that Gozitans take their time to move on with the times. For many years, this impression branded the sister island as being stuck in a time-warp, and to some extent, it contributed to a demand in tourism which kept booming until recent times.
But when comparisons between the two islands are drawn, one finds that even in historic times, Gozo’s vulnerability allowed for fast-changing cultural, economic and demographic dynamics that cannot in any way be equalled to Malta’s.
Ottoman invasions on the sister island for instance, were more frequent and much more devastating than they were in Malta. In the 16th Century, Gozo was almost entirely depopulated as inhabitants were either killed or taken to slavery by the Turks.
Most colonisers paid little or no attention to Gozo, and in a way, this contributed to a cultural evolution that was somewhat freer from foreign influence.
In the 20th century, the phenomenon of emigration and return migration was felt in Gozo much more than it was in Malta, and this perhaps explains why spoken English on the sister island tends to be of a better standard than in Malta. With many Gozitan families returning home with moneys generated in the US, Canada or Australia, inhabitants got a reputation for being wealthy.
Nowadays, any Gozitan deposits, investments and stashed-away riches, are more than the necessary buffers needed for yet another period of massive change that is taking place on the island.
The hospitality industry in Gozo has this year complained of a significant drop in tourism even at its Santa Marija peak – when restaurants, hotels, farmhouses and self-catering apartments are traditionally fully-booked weeks in advance. Instinctively, one blames the government for dragging its feet on some initiatives needed to turn Gozo into a more attractive tourist destination. However, we wonder what government can effectively do to turn the tables now. There is no magic wand solution.
Albeit perhaps late, government has made inroads in identifying what is required in Gozo and has acted on some of the very essential issues while it seems to be tackling others with promise.
Improving the Gozo Ferry service, tweaking regulation for self-catering accommodation, marketing Gozo as a separate tourist destination, introducing the concept of village-core authenticity as part of the island’s brand and bettering the state of the roads, have all been much needed and welcome initiatives that will surely improve tourism in Gozo. The eco-island project remained the Gozo Minister’s pipedream for a long while, although there seems to have been some action taken on it now. Discussions on developing an airfield in Gozo are no longer taboo, and these have to some extent evolved.
In recent years, development in Gozo has taken a faster pace than it has in Malta.
The island has sowed its seeds, and it now eagerly awaits fruits to be borne. No doubt, a dry summer does not help, but there is very little the farmer can do at this stage.
While the current economic situation of the sister island deserves empathy and support, the only feasible remedy in sight is for Gozitans to apply the virtue of patience and use part of the reserves they have accumulated over the years.
Unlike the situation in Malta, Gozo’s future is far from bleak if the authorities keep giving it the attention it deserves. Sadly, there is not much one can do about this dreaded summer.