Friday, 17 July 2009

The Reason Why We Are here

17th July 2009
The Malta Independent - Friday Wisdom

Whenever I entertain foreign visitors who are in Malta for the first time I always make it a point to begin by showing them around in Valletta and specifically by taking them for the breath-taking view of the Grand Harbour from the Upper Barrakka.

This is the reason why we are here! Without a harbour like that civilisation would have never taken root on these barren rocks. The deep harbour with internal serrated creeks offering protection from most weather conditions is what attracted original settlers and eventual foreign powers to set base on these island from where to control the surrounding sea passages and nearby lands.

I was elated therefore last Wednesday when I was privileged among many other important guests to attend the maiden call ceremony of the grandiose latest addition to the MSC cruise liner fleet the MSC Splendida – a floating de luxe hotel carrying nearly 4,000 passengers, which will henceforth become a regular landmark in our Grand Harbour every Wednesday from early in the morning till it sails off early in the evening.

Captain Bossi said it all when in his introductory address he said,“we are here to celebrate the first call of the most beautiful cruise liner in the world to the most beautiful port of the world”.

There were no dissenters, of course, but we are all biased. As the Maltese saying goes even the owl sees its offspring as the prettiest! But hearing it emphatically from a captain who has probably visited most of the commercial ports in the world shows that ours is no false pride.

There are pretty little few other more soul satisfying experiences than enjoying the view from a boat entering our Grand Harbour. This experience has been substantially enhanced through realisation of the Viset project which has restored the long neglected Pinto wharfs. There are strong prospects for further uplifting over the next decade as the inner harbour area gets revamped through the closure of the Marsa power station and redevelopment of this area from its current industrial uses to more leisure and services activities. As the dockyards undergo transformation we should see greater prevalence of tourist related activities in our docks and less processes which are visually less appealing though ship-repairing and ship refitting will never disappear altogether.

We have come a long way this last decade in developing our Grand Harbour. It was in 1997 when the then Labour government decided to take the advice of a group of “seven wise men” who suggested that cruise operation in the Mediterranean was prospected to become big business and Malta should make the necessary investments for developing the Grand Harbour to become a major player both as a port of call as well as a terminal for cruise liners permitting cruise and stay holidays.

I was personally appointed to a Board under the chairmanship of Dr Edward Woods tasked with the responsibility to issue, evaluate and recommend the final choice for private sector investment in the cruise liner terminal.

Political events changed the personalities but the objectives survived the pre-mature change of government, leading to the award of the tender to the Viset consortium. It was no bad choice at all, as events have proven.

We need to go much further in the forthcoming decade. The redevelopment of the inner harbour area, the dismantling of the Marsa power station, the transformation of the land currently siting it into a business centre on London docklands model, the transformation of some of the drydocks into uses for leisure and tourism, and the continued development of the quays to allow more facilities for cruise liners are challenges which will reward whatever investment we put in with solid and sustainable economic growth. It is investment that builds on our intrinsic strengths and competences.

Beyond the physical development of the Grand Harbour we have to upgrade the communications across both sides of the harbour. We cannot build bridges but we can build cable cars infrastructure to avoid vehicle based access to Valletta. We can and should extend public transport to popularly priced sea surface crossings across the harbour. And we need to create more tourist attractions by organisation of regular laser shows similar to the 2004 EU accession celebration providing son et lumiere type of historical exposition explaining to our guests the reason why we are here!

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