Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Tourism on the up, says Holliday

2004 was a good year for Gibraltar’s tourism, and the prognosis for 2005 is healthy, Joe Holliday, Trade and Tourism minister told the House.

The number of visitor arrivals by air last year was 157,000, an increase of 16.3% over the previous year, and more than double the 78,100 air arrivals of 1996 when the Government came into office. Arrivals by sea on cruise ships in 2004 showed an increase in the number of calls, from 167 in 2003 to 171 ships, but a much larger increase in the number of passengers. This increase was over 13%, and represented an additional 19,300 passengers.

Mr Holliday reported that the number of cruise ships calling at the port will continue to grow this year. The number of cruise calls expected in 2005 is over 180 with approximately 175,000 passengers plus crew.

Mr Holliday announced that the Medcruise General Assembly in May 2006 will be held in Gibraltar.

Spain

Visitor arrivals from Spain decreased by less than 2% in 2004 and Mr Holliday said this is mainly due to the fact that Spain enjoyed fewer visitor arrivals last year compared with the previous year.

He said that there will be investment in the Upper Rock and the new extra pound charge to visitors is being invested directly in this.

A considerable amount of investment went into phase 1 of a project that is designed to open up a section of World War II tunnels to visitors, and also the 18th century Middle Galleries.

Phase 2 of the project will complete the works that have been started, and will provide a link from the tunnels to Casemates Square, he said. As part of this project, a new public area will be recovered at the end of Road to the Lines and the people who live in this area and in Moorish Castle Estate will benefit from a pedestrian access from the Castle Batteries right down into Casemates Square.

There are also plans for the start of a project for Europa Point, but Government has rejected plans to develop further housing in the area, as the Government is committed to preserving Europa Point as a leisure area, with as much open space as possible, said Mr Holliday.

Hotels

Hotel occupancy, this continued to rise by 6% in 2004 to 126,400 room nights sold. On a growing number of occasions, there have been no hotel beds available in any hotel in Gibraltar and visitors had to be turned away. “The Government looks forward to new hotels coming on stream and will work towards this end. It is now obvious that Gibraltar needs more hotel beds,” he said.

Mr Holliday also announced that Government has taken the policy decision to decrease the tourism marketing budget to £750,000, but at the same time dedicate more financial resources on the improvement of the product, to include the Upper Rock and other areas.

“I now await Dr Garcia’s comments on this Government decision with interest. Acording to the Opposition, Government can never get it right. If Government decides that Gibraltar should have a stand at a particular trade fair, Government gets criticised by Dr Garcia for the decision…..there is too much expenditure, it involves too much travelling, there are too many parties etc. If Government decide to drop the Gibraltar stand at a particular trade fair, Government also gets criticised by Dr Garcia, for not doing enough,” said Mr Holliday.

“If the Opposition does have a tourism policy, something which I seriously doubt, I would welcome if Dr Garcia would spell this out, for the good of Gibraltar, if that is what he has at heart,” he said adding that “irrespective of all the destructive criticism, the Tourism industry in Gibraltar is doing well.”

Property

The former Buena Vista Barracks and the North Gorge was recently put out to tender for plans that include a significant number of affordable homes for Gibraltarians, said Mr Holliday.

Others include the ex-Junior Ranks site at Lathbury Barracks and the former distillery that was then used as a temporary MOT centre. There are residential and office projects proposed for these sites. At Lathbury Barracks a site has been allocated for the development of a private Care Residential Village for the elderly, which will be new facilities to be offered for the elderly in Gibraltar.

Other sites that the Government will consider for residential and commercial development, including car parking, this financial year include parts of the site of the old St Bernard’s Hospital and the adjacent former Police Barracks.

There are also plans for a multi-storey underground car park at Grand Parade, he said.

The Government has the opportunity to reshape significant parts of Gibraltar and this is planned to happen. The policy of the Government will continue to be to maximise the price that can be obtained from the sale of important former MOD properties, for the good of Gibraltar; to make available to Gibraltarian purchasers as many properties as possible; to encourage home ownership among Gibraltarians and assist first-time house buyers.

Reviewing ongoing projects as well Mr Holliday said that there will be spin-offs from all these developments, including new leisure and shopping outlets, car parks, a school, public parks in the city centre for the community to enjoy, new hotels and office accommodation. In addition, there is “the obvious multiplier effect of all this investment in the economy that will bring economic prosperity, including sustainable employment”

The works to develop further industrial units also continues. Phase 2 of the Lathbury Barracks Industrial Park development is currently in the planning stages and light industrial use is also intended for a reclamation that Government intends to carry out in the area of Western Beach, adjacent to the runway. Part of the area will serve as the base for a local company that exports motor vehicles. Other parts will be for other commercial uses. It is intended that the project will also include berthing facilities for the local community.

Mr Holliday said that during the course of this year, the draft Development Plan will be published and the public will be invited to comment on this important document.

Trade

Trade Licensing legislation is now drawing to a close he said adding that progress is also being made on reviewing the Bonded Stores regime.

“The objectives of these changes is to create a business environment to encourage further growth in trade. In addition the Government is working on new legislation disqualifying persons from being directors of companies in certain instances,” he said.

Commiunications

A new licence was granted to Broadband Gibraltar Limited earlier this year, which signifies an important investment in this field, said Mr Holliday. The company will commence operations shortly.

Insofar as the Royal Gibraltar Post Office is concerned Mr Holliday said he was satisfied that mail is being delivered promptly in Gibraltar, and that the public and in particular the business sector, is receiving the service that it requires and to which it is entitled.

In the financial year ended 31 March 2005, 3,850 out of a total of 4,004 walks were completed by postmen in accordance with the Next Day Service model. This represents 96% of the target figure for the year.

The Government is currently considering introducing post codes for Gibraltar, to facilitate mail handling and will also be examining options for insurance of postal packets and working with the Post Office to further develop e-commerce in Gibraltar, said Mr Holliday.

“Within a short time, e-Business House will be set up, which is a Government manifesto commitment, working from a single location, from which a number of operators will be able to fulfil export orders. A seminar to inform the private sector on the potential of this sector is being organised by Government, for the latter part of this year. I am sure this exercise will be of great benefit as an eye opener to local enterprise for possible expansion in this field,” he said.

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