Latest figures published by NSO show that in June, the number of Gozo residents on the unemployment register fell to 136, the lowest ever in history.
Before the pandemic struck, the Gozitan economy was steaming ahead, even faster than the accelerating Maltese economy. The pandemic’s devastating impact on tourism was viewed as marking a halt to this phenomenon. Many feared that Gozo’s economy, so reliant on both internal and external tourism, would buckle under.
At the end of February 2020, there were 159 Gozo residents who were registering for employment. This was only slightly higher than the 151 who had been registering in June 2019, the historical low point for unemployment in Gozo. In the first three months after the onset of COVID-19 in Malta, the number of Gozo residents who were registering had risen to 315. This meant that in just three months, those seeking employment doubled, returning the island to figures previously seen in 2017.
By historical standards, this level of unemployment for Gozo was not worrisome. Suffice it to say that in June 2009, in the previous economic crisis there had been 733 Gozo residents on the unemployment register. More worryingly in June 2013, there were 750 Gozo residents seeking employment, even though the Maltese economy had supposedly recovered from the 2009 crisis.
For this reason, the economic recovery plan was given a distinctively regional focus. Financial assistance to firms located in Gozo was set at more generous rates than for those in Malta. Government actively pushed for domestic tourism, knowing that Gozo would be the main beneficiary of such a drive. The voucher system was a game changerfor Gozitan tourism operators, while the reduction in stamp duty meant that many Maltese decided it was the best time to invest in a property on the sister island.
At the same time Government continued with its long-term economic plans to transform Gozo into a new economic motor. The launch of the Gozo Regional Development Strategy, the investment in the second fibre optic cable and the introduction of the fast ferry service all showed that this administration stood by its promise that Gozo’s time had arrived.
Just 13 months after the pandemic hit the Maltese islands, the number of Gozo residents that are still on the unemployment register has dwindled to 136. Not only is this 57% lower than the amount observed in May 2020, but this also marks the lowest ever number of unemployed people in Gozo. In the midst of a pandemic that has felled down tourism, the number of persons registering for work in Gozo is six times less than in June 2013. Even the most optimistic of forecasters could never have come up with such a positive outlook.
The number of persons registering for work in Gozo is six times less than in June 2013.
Yet again it seems that Gozo’s economy is set to out-perform that of Malta. In fact, Prime Minister Robert Abela has announced that for Malta the new historical minimum for unemployment was reached in July, or a month later than in Gozo. The boom in internal tourism, the rising purchases of second homes on the island combined with the success of the second round of Government vouchers, appears to be driving the Gozitan economy to new heights.
In the first half of 2021 there have been 1,045 contracts of sale that were finalised for Gozitan properties, marking an increase of 24% over the same period a year earlier. More impressive is the fact that in the first half of 2021 there have been 1,174 promises of sale for residential properties in Gozo. This is nearly two and a half times the amount observed in the same period of 2020. A lot of these properties are in shell form, thus requiring substantial finishing works which will generate lots of work for Gozo resident self-employed in the sector. After that process is finished these hundreds of properties will need to be furnished, generating a stream of revenue for local shops.
The Gozitan economy can truly look forward to an unprecedented injection of private money in the coming months as Maltese families start to devote part of the record savings made in past months towards their new Gozitan properties. Moreover, Government’s plans to boost infrastructure spending and devote considerable sums from EU funds means that this will be accompanied by yet another injection of public money.
All this suggests that Prime Minister Abela’s promise that Gozo’s GDP per capita will converge swiftly to Malta’s level may be well on track to being achieved.