Ambitious for Gibraltar Tourism
Jo Ward chats to Kevin Bossino, CEO of the Gibraltar Tourist Board, about how he has found his new role since he took on the position in September 2022 and asks what his vision is for Gibraltar tourism.
“Hitting the ground running is an understatement,” Kevin says. “The tourism umbrella is quite wide ranging and there is a lot to look after; from the Cruise Line industry, the Airline industry, Hotel and Hospitality, the MICE sector, travel agents, tour operators and wholesalers, OTAs (online travel agents), corporate sector, sports and cultural sectors, marketing including digital marketing and social media, plus all the day to day challenges, so it has been hard work but very exciting.”
Asked how he is dealing with the repercussions of tourism in a post-pandemic world, Kevin says that the market has gathered momentum and is similar to pre-pandemic levels. “The silver lining is that that is without having China and most of Asia returning to their full capacity and when they do start filling up the gaps, we will have the full spectrum of the recovery – we are well on track.”
Tourism is a vital part of Gibraltar’s economy, and Kevin stresses that whenever a tourist spends a pound in a certain place, it has a multiplier effect and it ripples amongst the wider economy.
In a competitive market, does Gibraltar provide enough for tourists, whether that is the day tripper from Spain, the cruise liner tourists or the longer term holidaymaker? “It is important to showcase what Gibraltar has to offer, which is an incredible amount,” he comments.
“Of course you can always do better,” Kevin states. “What we already have on offer is incredibly interesting, including a whole variety of tours and different experiences, but I think that there is plenty of room to expand and enhance this greatly. We have ambitious plans for Gibraltar tourism.”
Plans to open up the Northern Defences are underway and this is an area of immense importance and could be yet another of the unique and top tourist attractions available on the Rock. There is also Parsons Lodge, which sits next to the old victualing yard, which is earmarked to open as a Natural History museum and an extension to the Gibraltar museum in town.
“The maritime sector is another area that can be explored, especially at the likes of Rosia Bay where in 1805 Nelson’s body was placed in a casket filled with brandy and transported on HMS Victory into the bay, after his demise in the Battle of Trafalgar. The potential for story telling has no end,” Kevin explains. He gives further examples of the Stay Behind Cave and Operation Tracer. “Whenever I tell anybody that 007 author Ian Fleming was involved in the Top Secret operation whereby a team was recruited to hide in the cave and spy on the Nazis in the event of what was considered to be an imminent invasion during WWII, they are astounded.” There are other interesting stories to be told such as the fact that the acclaimed author of the famed Game of Thrones series, George RR Martin, has said he was inspired by the Rock when developing his ideas on the mythical Casterly Rock.
“We need to use immersive technology, featuring all the senses such as audio, visual, smell and touch, to create a special experience and enhance what we have to offer,” Kevin says.
Although the history of Gibraltar stretches back all the way to the Neanderthals there is a huge amount of modern day history that can be incorporated into visits for tourists. Kevin gives an example of how even in unexpected areas such as the development of Gibraltar’s water system there are hidden treasures of information. From Nun’s Well traced back to the Moorish occupation to the water catchments area constructed in 1903 at the East side which was a system unique in the world and considered an engineering achievement of considerable merit. “Then you have the narrative around the mass evacuation of the civilian population during the Second World War,” he states.
Special interests is an important area that the Tourist Board is exploring. “Bird watching is an example – Gibraltar is a really amazing place for bird watchers because this is where the channel lies for migrations from Africa into Europe, so if you are into bird watching this would be one of the places you would want to be.” Kevin is also keen to remind tourists about scuba diving with 34 wrecks around the Rock and of course, there is the ever popular dolphin safari where it is almost guaranteed that some of the hundreds of these friendly animals that reside in the bay area will pay your boat a visit and put on a masterful display. “If you fancy a swim from one of our lovely beaches, where else can you swim in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on the same day?”
“We are reliant on the relevant stakeholders for some of these projects,” Kevin explains, going on to say that the job of the Tourist Board is primarily to market our product. “We need to make sure that we shout the Gibraltar name as loud as we can.”
These new initiatives sound exciting, but I ask Kevin if Gibraltar’s infrastructure can cope with them? “At the moment we have around 10 million tourists coming to our shores annually, and we can cope, but we are constantly looking into improving the logistics and transportation network.”
“My desire is to push Gibraltar into the premium level,” he says. “The important volume market is what we get from the land border crossings and from the cruise liners, and I say that with the utmost respect because people from the cruise liners, especially the smaller, luxury liners, are in that boutique space and need special attention and more bespoke tours.”
Kevin tells me that one of the things he experienced a couple of weeks ago was the Eisenhower Room, housed in a data centre deep inside the Rock where General Dwight Eisenhower directed the successful invasion of French North Africa during the Second World War. “It is not open to the public at large at the moment but we need to see how we can develop bespoke tours for small groups of people,” Kevin comments.
“We can become a niche destination because we don’t have massive capacity in terms of room stock or meeting spaces etc. so we need to go for what we can comfortably provide to ensure that we can provide the best service possible to our visitor,” he states.
“You have got to plant the seed and then let it grow – and sometimes it grows organically if you plant it properly.”
Asked in the absence of a Treaty how it will affect tourism, Kevin admits that it remains to be seen. “If we get a Treaty then obviously there will be a fluid border, if we don’t get a Treaty we need to be prepared to ensure that we can still have tourism without that total reliance on the border, which is why the cruise business is so important.”
Kevin says that together with the Hon Vijay Daryanani, the Minister for Business and Tourism and the Port, he has been working very hard to try and promote Gibraltar wherever and whenever possible.
“It is sometimes hard to imagine that such a small destination can pack in so much but once people visit they have that ‘Aha! Moment’ and therefore it is very valuable to have people in the trade responsible for selling the destination to experience and understand it, which is why we are looking at boosting our familiarisation trips as an area that we need to push and invest in.
Event led tourism has achieved success over the years by bolstering off-peak season activity. Gibraltar has become a destination of choice for a much wider clientele, from sport enthusiasts and culture lovers to superyacht owners, history buffs and birdwatchers. Kevin explains that they are working with different departments in both the Government and private sector to promote these type of events.
“We have the Rugby Sevens coming up at the end of June and we want to see it gain some traction and become a mini version of the Rugby Sevens held in places such Hong Kong, Singapore, and Dubai where it is a big event,” Kevin comments.
“People coming in on the cruise liners want to have different experiences, whether that is the rugby, the literary festival or the recently held European Division 3 Squash Championships.”
Weddings are another crucial sector that Kevin thinks could be expanded. “We are working on The Mount, the former residence of the Royal Navy’s senior officer, which is an amazing piece of land and venue, so if we can get that right that could be a perfect environment for weddings.”
As well as promoting Gibraltar as an experiential destination, Kevin says they are also working on attracting more super yachts, private jets and boutique luxury cruises. “The hotel scene is developing as we speak in a calibrated fashion to make sure everybody is looked after in an appropriate way,” he says. “Sometimes we do need assistance from the retail sector to ensure that they are kept open when we are busy during the weekends and after hours as well, because in many destinations they are kept open later, but it is a bit of a chicken and egg situation because if that doesn’t happen you can’t attract evening or weekend tourism and we want to encourage the retail sector to do that.”
In Kevin’s view Gibraltar could be a boutique destination because of its size, quaintness and the convenience of getting around. “You can walk everywhere, whereas in other destinations you can’t – the convenience is next to none.”
Kevin’s closing words are: “Gibraltar is a unique and experiential destination which can be made into a premium destination.”