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Tourism sector needs ambitious long-term plan, Chamber says

Gibraltar’s tourism product ‘falls short’ of its full potential, the Gibraltar Chamber of Commerce has said as it called for greater investment and ambition for the sector.

Gibraltar has a natural product and history yet this has never been fully exploited, the Chamber stated in its recently published annual report.

It wants the Gibraltar Government to rally private sector interest and boost the sector with ambitious long-term strategies and investment.

The business organisation said it had advocated far greater public spending in the tourism sector in Gibraltar for many years, describing it as ‘the lost pillar’ of the economy.

The Chamber believes there has been no long term strategy and a ‘distinct lack of ambition’ to pursue an ‘exciting and game-changing’ approach to a sector which offers much more potential.

“Over the last 20 years, whilst investment has been made, there is ample evidence that the product still falls short,” the Chamber said in the report.

The business organisation points to short-falls in transport, hotel infrastructure, visitor experience, facilities, marketing and promotion, and service culture.

Transport, the Chamber said, is the most significant key to unlocking greater potential for increased visitor numbers and an enhanced visitor experience.

It highlights an opportunity to create ‘a world class hub’ within the frontier area to capture a higher volume of day trippers and new routes similar to other city models.

Resolving the public transport issue by introducing black cabs and improving the taxi service is one of the Chamber’s key recommendations in this area.

Whilst the hotel offering has seen improvements with the opening of the Sunborn and the refurbishment of the Rock Hotel, the Chamber states that Gibraltar’s hotel offering “remains below par if we have ambitions to be a world class city break”.

It would like to see an internationally-recognised hotel brand establish itself in Gibraltar along with a more family-friendly offering.

The Chamber adds that while it is encouraging to see investment in facilities in the Upper Rock area, this is playing catch-up to years of under investment.

It recommends niche activities such as diving, bird watching and history tours as well as a ‘mega service centre’ at the frontier precinct to provide a one-stop shop for visitors.

“It is also fair to say that – as a whole – the private sector has not embraced tourism as a future driver of economic activity,” the report reads.

This, it says, is evidenced in the service culture in some areas such as hospitality and the retail trades.

The report further highlights issues such as language arising from reliance on non-English speaking employees and the appearance of a ‘sleepy town’ during the weekends.

“We believe that real partnerships should be forged with industry however this will only deliver success if the private sector buys into a real long-term vision for tourism in Gibraltar. Ultimately, this requires the Government to take the lead.”

The Chamber therefore recommends promoting service culture within business associations; introducing service awards to get industry buy-in and reviewing legislation which makes the opening of the retail sector more feasible.

The business organisation has also called on the Government to deliver ‘a real long-term vision’ for the sector matched by the required ambition.

This needs to be supported by the hard capital and innovation required, the Chamber added.

“Budgets should be re-assessed and the Government may consider a 10-year capital spending programme aligned to a strategy rather than current short term budget allocations,” the report said.

“Tourism must be taken seriously.”

“Tourism is one of the key growth drivers to many small locations around the world and as the prospect of random terror attacks become more prominent it is likely that short break European travellers will evaluate security as a key consideration when choosing their next destination.”

“Gibraltar has an opportunity not to be missed,” the Chamber said.

The organisation added that it hopes that the Government and the Minister responsible pursue the stated desire to develop a long-term strategy matched  by the ambition and necessary resources.

According to the report, the Chamber has submitted a positioning paper to the Government and has attempted to identify key areas of concern or opportunity and highlighted potential solutions and ideas.

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