A repeat of the New Year’s rush to Gozo is expected over carnival weekend as accommodation bookings seem to be on demand despite the cancellation of festivities and warnings against mass gatherings.

The Gozo Tourism Authority says operators are reporting a high request load over the February 12-14 weekend and a search on popular site booking.com indicates many establishments are already unavailable.

It comes despite a historic decision to call off all carnival festivities after health authorities linked an ongoing spike in COVID-19 cases to gatherings during Christmas.

“This is a repeat of what happened at the end of the year. People are crossing over to spend carnival in Gozo even if Victoria and Nadur have cancelled events,” Gozo Tourism Authority CEO Joseph Muscat told Times of Malta.

Searches on booking.com also suggest that the accommodation is being booked out by small groups rather than couples.

For up to seven guests, 82% of 85 establishments are unavailable during carnival weekend compared to the other weekends in February, when most holiday homes, guests and hotels can be booked.

And for six guests, 77% of 111 places have been reserved over the same period, compared to the rest of the month, when most accommodation is free.

Asked if the high unavailability rate might be due to establishments taking their accommodation off the market for safety reasons over that weekend, Muscat said that cannot be excluded but is unlikely.

Bookings made by small groups

“While there are definitely some operators that do not offer their accommodation to carnival clientele, these don’t tend to be many,” he said.

“Operators are still reporting high demand over carnival weekend,” he noted.

Muscat explained that while the tourism authority was often criticised for encouraging the Maltese to cross over, the onus should not be placed on the operators or the authority that represents them to manage crowds gathering in Gozo.

“If operators are given the go-ahead by the authorities to open and there is demand there’s little we can do,” he said, adding that large numbers were also likely to head to Gozo during other particular weekends like Easter.

The only time the Maltese stopped going was when non-essential travel to Gozo was prohibited. While it was easier for operators such as restaurants and hotels to follow health protocols, Muscat said it was more difficult for farmhouses, to restrict how many guests were turning up.

“People book a farmhouse for eight and then more people arrive. Or they book three farmhouses next to each other and then they join together. How can you control that?” he asked.

The council of Nadur, the Gozitan town famed for its dark carnival, has cancelled all its activities this year and warned people not to use the spontaneity of the celebration as an excuse to gather in the locality.

It said anyone caught flouting the public health regulations would be reported to the authorities concerned.

Last year, an estimated 48,000 people and 15,000 cars crossed the channel to take part in the carnival festivities.

Between December 29 and 31, Gozo Channel said 25,000 people crossed over to the sister island, sparking widespread fear of a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Since Christmas, Malta has seen record daily numbers of the virus, with authorities blaming gatherings from the festive period.

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