Anyone visiting Gozo for the first time gets the feeling they have stepped back in time. The villages, especially the smaller and more remote ones, are the epitome of a truly Mediterranean setting that hasn’t changed much with the passing decades. However, Gozo is also the home of hardworking and enterprising communities that have been known for their apt business sense and are now busy weighing the ingredients of a new winning formula.
Making the Most of Smallness
With 32,000 people (roughly 7.4% of Malta’s general population), Gozo is the second-largest island on the Maltese archipelago. Because of its beauty, tourism has always been Gozo’s main economic pillar. Roughly 50% of Gozo’s GDP depends on the tourism sector and the numbers are on the rise. 2016 was a record year in terms of tourism arrivals, with one million bed nights being registered.
However, the economic operation of the island is witnessing palpable diversification. Gozo is attracting service-oriented companies in sectors such as IT and financial services. RS2, the global payments software provider, has recently invested €1 million in a new office in Gozo, as has KPMG, one of the Big Four international audit firms. The latest industry additions also include producers of natural cosmetics, quality foods and even artisan breweries.
Malta’s investment entity, Malta Enterprise, is rolling out the red carpet for entrepreneurs choosing to locate on Gozo. Companies can benefit from more advantageous tax credits. Together with the Gozo Ministry, Malta Enterprise has also allocated €16 million for a partially EU-funded project to develop a digital hub aimed at attracting more high-tech companies to Gozo, mainly for R&D purposes. This activity will galvanize the good results that Gozo has already achieved in its GDP growth and employment rate. GDP growth in 2015 was already ten times that of 2012.
A SPACE FOR IDEAS: A former dairy products factory in the perimetre of the Xewkija Industrial park in Gozo will be transformed into a space that shall house tech companies and foster innovation
Health Hub Potential
A major public-private partnership for a health-tourism hub is also starting to take shape in Gozo. A total of 300 medical students from Europe and beyond are set to enrol in what will be Barts School of Medicine and Dentistry’s first campus outside of the UK. Education and training will be amalgamated with a revamp of the Gozo hospital. The main three pillars of this hub will be oncology, orthopaedics and elderly care. However, there will also be openings for rehabilitation services and specialised medical manufacturing.
“Gozo is open to various forms of investment and government is working on improving the infrastructure. We are investing €3.2 million in a second fibre optic cable that shall provide comfort to firms looking at a Gozo presence.” - Anton Refalo, Minister for Gozo
Where Inspiration meets Innovation
Accessibility is still an issue anyone doing business in Gozo needs to consider, as the island is a 30-minute ferry ride out of Malta. However, studies for a tunnel across the channel and plans for a fast ferry connection between Valletta and Gozo mean that sooner rather than later this issue will be a thing of the past. Funding a second submarine fibre-optic cable to Gozo is also a priority of the current administration in order to offer security and redundancy to companies heavily reliant on international services and transactions.
Gozo cannot be a location for the production of huge quantities but it can offer a space for inspiration and innovation. Over the last years the island has attracted several foreign entrepreneurs and artistic-type expats looking for a slower pace of life. If their experience and know-how can be twinned with the desire and ambition of local companies to venture into new fields and tap new markets, it is likely that interesting strategic partnerships will result. The sound of the word Gozo might become more familiar in the years to come.