Friday, 10 November 2023, 12:51
Christian Santos was only just embarking on his fourth week as a minister in the Gibraltar government when he arrived at the World Travel Market on Monday morning. Tourism is one of his portfolios in Fabian Picardo's new cabinet - he is also minister for Youth, Employment, Equality and Culture - and this week saw him heading up the Rock's delegation in London at the three-day travel fair.
One of the objectives of the Gibraltar tourism authorities at the travel fair was to recover pre-Covid figures, a challenge they are well on their way to achieving, despite 2019 being a peak year that is hard to follow.
"For air passengers [the numbers] are very similar. We're not at the end of the year but we're looking like we are going to be more or less the same. For visitors up the Rock we are looking at around 85 to 90 per cent of where we were in 2019. And we hope that by 2025 we'll get there in cruise booking numbers," Santos told SUR in English at the World Travel Market on Monday.
The new minister explained that one of his main aims for tourism was to go beyond the typical attractions that day-trippers flock to Gibraltar for, such as the historical sites and the apes.
"We want to remind people of what Gibraltar has to offer, but not just our military history and our heritage sites, but also that we are a British Overseas Territory, we have a very British identity in the Mediterranean and that's something very unique to us; I want to remind people who we are. This is a place where the community will always welcome you with open arms."
Santos also explained the change in demographic with more younger visitors coming since Gibraltar was green-lit earlier by the UK as Covid restrictions were lifted.
"We want to assess what we offer our younger demographic and to keep visitors coming, with new products, a new outlook into our cultural identity and how we can make people feel part of it. When you come to Gibraltar more than once you start feeling at home," said the minister.
New hotels opening will offer more opportunities for people to stay for longer, he added.
Another aim was to reinforce the existing air routes into Gibraltar as well as looking at new ones and recovering others that no longer operate.
Tapping further into niche tourism markets are also on the tourism team's agenda, including weddings, adventure trails and the upcoming literary festival, which in future years Santos hopes can be promoted more as an attraction for tourists looking for a cultural holiday.
"We're seeing people are getting into more sustainable travel; we have our bicycle lanes and we've noticed that visitors up the Rock are deciding to walk rather than using cars - that number has already doubled since 2019, so it's an interesting pattern," added the minister.
"I always have a very positive outlook and mindset so I'm working on a product where the border will be open. If it isn't then we'll need to reassess and we do have plans," said the minister. "Whatever happens with the deal, we still need to have a product that we can sell," he added. "Whether there is an easy flow or whether you need a visa to come in, the product still needs to be there."
The new cruise terminal is one of them: "We're already looking into that, we're getting ideas on how and when and time scales," said Santos
Work on the frontier beautification scheme is another. "We're looking at starting the frontier entrance by April," said the minister. "We need to make sure that access in and out of Gibraltar looks great. We need to beautify Gibraltar."
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