As a cruise ship terminal for Gozo creeps closer to being a reality, I find myself conflicted.
A slight caveat before we get started: the mooted terminal does not yet have a location or timeframe and probably needs to be filed in the same cabinet as other notional travel ideas like Boris Island. It remains pie in the sky - for the moment.
But I have a sneaking suspicion this one may actually happen, and I must say I’m in two minds about it.
If you run a business on Gozo, you’re probably giving the idea of a cruise ship terminal a tentative welcome. Anything that brings visitors directly to the island – and potentially brings them outside of the peak visitor seasons – has to be a good thing. Gozo’s here all year round, but the peak seasons for Gozo holidays naturally cluster around school holidays.
The cruise ship customer is a different market, and one likely to be less tied to peak seasons, so this could be a wonderful way of boosting tourism during the parts of the year when Gozo is traditionally quiet.
In 2015, according to Malta Today, 18 cruise ships carrying 9,800 passengers berthed at Gozo. That’s a dramatic increase on previous years, but hardly enough to make you worry that the island is suddenly about to be overrun. Choose the right times and tour operators will find there’s plenty of room on Gozo.
Yet that timing is crucial. Bring a cruise ship or two to Gozo outside peak season and all you’ll likely do is provide a welcome extension the season for Gozitans. Bring them in the height of summer and you’ll put pressure on, for example, roads - something the island could probably do without.
“That’s ok”, you might hear a local politician or two saying, “We’ll just build more roads.”
And therein lies my concern.
In the Malta Today article, Tourism minister Edward Zammit Lewis said a cruise ship terminal will “change the topography” of the island.
Now I’m aware of the potential hypocrisy of an ‘outsider’ pontificating on the future of an island that isn’t my own. I genuinely don’t want to preserve Gozo in aspic. It, like everywhere else, has to be allowed to grow and develop.
But I do live here for great chunks of the year and one of the reasons I love the island so much is the feeling of being able to get away from it all in a dramatic and largely unspoilt landscape. It would be tragic to see the very thing that makes Gozo so wonderful get lost in the scramble to bring more people to see it.
Like so many things, a cruise liner terminal on Gozo brings opportunities and threats. I just hope that the balance falls squarely on the former.
*photos courtesy of Viewing Malta.