Uncertainty, fear, loss, a weak pound are all the doom and gloom terms associated with the oncoming divorce from the European Union and Common Market. Whilst there surely cannot be a miracle pill, there are palliative treatments to ensure the health of our core business.
90% of businesses in Gibraltar are small businesses. It cannot be argued that ‘we’, the small businesses are ‘The Gibraltar Product.’
Our finance and betting industry is teetering on the conditions of Brexit which Government will undoubtedly fight for tooth and nail. However, how does this affect our local service providers and retail business?
We know Spain will have no remorse if our businesses fail, and can we truly rely on the UK to watch our backs, when the PM’s main concerns are to the majority who voted out and those potentially voting to keep her in? Will this pawn be sacrificed for the greater good?
In simple terms; the potential mass exodus of jurisdiction savvy migrant businesses (which tend to be multinational), would negatively affect Gibraltar in loss of corporate and customer volume. Demand pressures will no longer fuel office and housing rents and less services and consumables will be needed. Albeit it is argued that most cross-border workers spend little in Gibraltar; PAYE, Social Insurance, and Corporate Tax all contribute to the economy.
Back to basics
If British citizens are going to find it inconvenient to visit the usual Spanish resorts because of visas, a weak pound or the likes, this shines a new light on ‘Britain in the Sun’ just a convenient direct flight away.
The question is how do we retain custom and a sector of the tourist market we have previously failed to attract? Do we have ‘cannot-do-at-home’ activities and attractions compared to other destinations?
In the eyes of visitors, our tourist product has changed little since the 70’s. The apes, St. Michael’s Cave, the dolphins, cheap fags and booze has fared us well thus far. “Once you’ve been to Gib once, you’ve seen it all”. “But,” I hear you all shouting, “there’s so much more!” Indeed, there is, but we do not do enough to tell them and keep them. We should sell ourselves better at the entry points of Gibraltar. The frontier, airport, marinas and cruise liner terminal lack information on what to do and reasons to stay, possibly because we have little to show.
We have cornered the middle-aged, cruise faring, package tour, sandwich-in-a-bag, half day visitor, but what about attracting a younger, more dynamic and family orientated segment of the market?
The much coveted ‘event-led tourism’ is great, but mayor events are annual and fail to retain visitors as most events worth travelling for do not warrant an overnight stay for the lack of reasons to stay. Events such as the GMF, the Chess Festival, darts and snooker should be our cream and not our daily bread. Our repeat business continues to be family, friends, frontier workers and the notorious heavy smoker.
‘Activity-led tourism’ must be the way forward for our day-to-day business to compete with the rest of the world; albeit duty-free high-end shopping.
A list of attractions for all tastes and abilities, mainstream and non-mainstream sites, prestige retail and culinary experiences would warrant an overnight stay, even if we then lose the long stay business to the Marbella nightlife. Yet, many land and run across the border almost not setting foot on the Rock for all those reasons. By retaining visitors, all our small businesses, directly or indirectly benefit. The only way we can do this is by offering that which cannot be found at home. Gibraltar has it all, but understandably at a smaller scale. Although in our travels we may spend some of our ‘valuable holiday time’ at the Odeon, visitors are not likely to visit Gibraltar for our very much loved cinema.
Are we making the most of what we have? I don’t believe we are. Chatting with my experienced friend Clive Martinez Snr who has worked around the world and with tourism since I can remember, he reignited an idea which has obviously been thought of by more than one. A directory of sorts; albeit an app with all our activities, attractions and retail options that can be stamped on arrival which gives visitors an incentive to either, stay or come back to do and see that which they have not had time to.
We are now offering walking tours, WWII tunnel and Lower St. Michael Cave tours and attractions like the Windsor Bridge and Sky Walk, but are these enough to attract and more importantly, retain visitors?
Why is no one maximising the waters around us with water sports like water-skiing, Ringo, Jet Ski hire and the likes? Most visitors come from inland and relish the sea, even when we, the locals, would never think of going for a swim in March. I understand the authorities make it difficult to import and set up such a business, yet these attractions are available around the world.
Furthermore, we do not maximise re-enactments of our history, with only the much enjoyed weekly volunteers of the Re-enactment Association (RA). If we were to advertise the firing of the mid-day gun from the Tower of Homage (at a fee), I am certain we would sell out daily and add yet another thing to see and experience. Yet, I am told by the RA members that the RGP deems their cannon ‘to be too loud’. But what does a cannon do if not go boom? However, we shoot daily rockets for bird control and never miss a Royal Gun Salute. Are we our own worst enemy?
Government currently have four fully funded proposals that could add and revamp the tourist industry. The Top of the Rock Zipline is one example. This would bring back repeat customers and adventure seeking tourists with a very inclusive (eldest 99 years old), speed controlled attraction. Visitors that would otherwise not return and pay our nature reserve fees will have a reason to. Zip World (the providers), are fully booked daily in the Welsh mountains of Snowdonia and have quoted up to 500 daily customers would need transport to the top of the Rock. This has been welcomed by the Cable Car operatives and Taxi drivers alike.
The trampoline style Bounce BelowTM is set up inside a disused mineshaft and tunnels to which Gibraltar lends itself perfectly. This has transformed the derelict neighbouring mining town of old.
A sensitive transformation of the Upper Rock of which details remain highly secret, but still proposed by a local entrepreneur seems to have fallen on deaf ears.
We do little or nothing to commemorate The Battle of Trafalgar, yet a model re-enactment is hosted in the UK and US, whilst we, the stars of the show,… I rest my case.
I invite all activity and retail providers to forward details of their offerings to be included in the ‘Gib.holiday’ Directory, as small businesses can add much variety to the touch and go tour service currently on offer. This sort of search product needs to have every single business that has something to offer to visitors for it to work.
But why take my word for it? Well, you don’t have to. Mr Verde (speaker of the event organised by the local American Chamber of Commerce), did hit the nail on the head with regards to helping our local entrepreneurs in the face of Brexit. CM Picardo supports entrepreneurs after speaking at the launch of Startup Grind and Minister Costa did the same with the Gibraltar Entrepreneurship Meetup Group.
The question remains, is Government listening?
words | Blythe Reeves, Special Ops Gibraltar