What did Caruana mean when he said Gibraltar and Marbella had much in common?
by JOE GARCIA
Marbella has got a bad name for itself with all those cases of money laundering and other financial irregularities, but when chief minister Peter Caruana arrived in Marbella last Friday, and said that Marbella and Gibraltar had much in common, he was not thinking about that.
Media coverage about the visit to Marbella has tended to centre on political issues, such as his coffee with former Spanish foreign ministry official Benardino Leon Gross and the waters issue.
POLITICS AND TOURISM
Should the visit have ended being of a political nature, as the Skal Club, which invited Mr Caruana for lunch, is not about politics but about tourism - and its members tend to be travel agents and the like.
But Mr Caruana may have found it appealing that he could transform the touristic visit to a political one, using it to air his views about the water, not in his coffee the day before, but out in the bay which the Spanish government has converted into a disputed area in the same way that they have made the isthmus politically contentious.
So, despite all that politics, when Mr Caruana made reference to Marbella and Gibraltar having much in common he was obviously referring to touristic matters. "We are cities that need tourism," he said. "Gibraltar's tourism benefits Marbella and vice versa."
He then went on to suggest that the two places should strike an alliance. "It would be a pleasure for Gibraltar to work closely with Marbella," he said, urging some kind of joint operation, a union as some were saying.
The offer was made to the Marbella municipality, who in recent times have been having enough problems to keep themselves busy. But as observers have noted, he made the offer but he did not give details how this union with Marbella could take place.
Of course it is not the first time that working together with Marbella has been aired. A number of years ago, the then mayor Jesus Gil, even came to Gibraltar to flog the idea. And on other occasions the rich and famous have been particularly keen to strike a link with the Rock.
But Marbella is part of the Malaga province and when people fly out they must think of Malaga airport as being nearer, more trouble-free and so much bigger than Gibraltar's. That was not the case many years ago, but Gibraltar failed to grasp the momentum of the times to develop its patch, and due to the lack of imaginative thinking perhaps, and other considerations no doubt, it is Malaga which has grown by leaps and bounds.
So, it is difficult to see how Gibraltar's own airport can benefit substantially from Marbella's high flyers, as it is Malaga which has all the connections.
If having a casino here was an attraction at one time, casinos are now widely available on the other side, so again that cannot be a tourist attraction. Hotels? They have a couple of thousands.
THE ROAD TO MARBELLA
It could well be that Marbella might wish to develop links to attract those who now fly to Gibraltar, to take the road to their area. That would not do Gibraltar's economy much good, because already airlines to Gibraltar may have a fairly acceptable load factor but most passengers simply go into Spain.
Thus, measuring the success or otherwise of the new expensive airport will be not so much about more airlines flying here, but if the passengers of such airlines stay in Gibraltar and not clear off in haste to the other side. If they now put a foot on Gibraltar, the exodus will in future be greatly facilitated by having a new airport against the frontier itself.
MORE PASSENGER FRIENDLY
Furthermore, to what extent will the new building be more passenger friendly than the present one? If you now fly out, or come in, you can get drenched as you queue up on the tarmac to climb into the plane after the bus takes you nearer but not far enough. On a strong levanter day, that is not a welcoming expectation. To be successful we must emulate the best, and not be comforted by the thought that there are those who are worse than Gibraltar.
In this respect, it is to be expected that the new airport will include those passenger tunnels that are linked to the aircraft and allow passengers to cross into the airport without it being a problem if it is raining or if it is windy.
So, when Mr Caruana suggests a union between Marbella and Gibraltar does he really know what he means? Has he studied the prospects in detail or at all? Or was that just a gimmick to show a degree of goodwill on our part?
Who knows - does he?