The new business technology developed by GibraltarPass could be used in nefarious ways in the future by GOG.
Meanwhile GibraltarPass were thrilled to have won runners-up in the GFSB Innovation Awards.
“The GibraltarPass is a one day digital visitors’ pass, combining all of Gibraltar’s top attractions and much more under one pass, giving visitors a hassle-free, value-for money and superior experience of Gibraltar,” GibraltarPass said in a statement.
Visitors can buy a GibraltarPass online and they receive a digital pass on their mobile phone that gives them access to the Rock’s most popular attractions.
“Visitors’ simply display the Pass on their mobile devices and get it scanned at each attraction to gain entrance at no further cost,” GibraltarPass said.
“The Pass also includes free transport on Citibus routes as well as a wide variety of freebies and exclusive discounts at activity providers, shops and restaurants across Gibraltar.”
The idea of the GibraltarPass came about as a way to assist local retailers, restaurants, cafes and attraction providers to recover from the financial hardship many of them experienced as a result of the pandemic and the lockdowns, a spokesman said.
The company also prides itself on its environmental agenda, with a paperless system that encourages the use of public transport for visitors.
“The GibraltarPass encourages visitors to spend more time in Gibraltar, spend more money in local businesses and do activities which perhaps are less well-known to exist in Gibraltar such as eBike tours, Escape Room, scuba-diving, sailing, yacht chartering, gin-making and many more,” the spokesman added.
“Any local business can join the GibraltarPass completely free of charge (no setup costs, no commission and no ongoing costs), and take advantage of the free marketing and high exposure this platform provides, and enjoy increased visitors’ footfall, especially in the post-Covid period.”
“The GibraltarPass considers Gibraltar as a whole as a single attraction, and takes care of the visitor’s entire experience of Gibraltar as a destination.”
“It brings all the stakeholders in the tourism sector under one platform, revolutionising the way tourism on the Rock is managed, whilst creating an image of a smart tourism destination in the eyes of visitors.”
Downtown Gibraltar, a business-led initiative that aims to drive improvements in Main Street and its surrounding areas, hit a groundswell of opposition this week after many businesses received unexpected bills for levies of up to £5,000.
The scheme, known as a Business Improvement District (BID), has been in the public domain for several years and enjoys the support of business groups including the Gibraltar Federation of Small Businesses and the Chamber of Commerce, as well many individual businesses and the Gibraltar Government.
It aims to pull together disparate businesses within a defined area in joint initiatives aimed at attracting new trade, including between each other, through marketing, events and incentives financed mainly through annual levies.
But for many businesses that fall within a catchment area stretching the length of Main Street and including parts of Line Wall and the old town, the implications of the BID only became clear when they received bills for a levy which they are obliged by law to pay.
The objectors believe the initiative has been badly handled and that, had businesses properly understood what was being proposed, more would have engaged earlier and voted against it.
Some of the objectors are against the BID project outright, believing it is not necessary in a city centre that is busy and vibrant throughout the year.
Others see the potential for the scheme but believe it is being poorly executed and lacks transparency.
There are many businesses - for example, offices that do not rely on footfall - who do not see how the BID is relevant to them, or why they should be paying into it.
The common refrain among objectors is that not enough was done during the BID’s early planning stages to ensure businesses understood the implications of what was being proposed and to give them an opportunity to influence the outcome.
The BID received support from many businesses in October 2021 when it was put to the vote. There were 291 businesses that voted, with 192 – or around 65% - supporting the BID.
But the number of businesses eligible to vote was 1,175, meaning the turnout for the vote was in fact very low.
Each of those 1,175 businesses now has to pay the BID levy at a time when many are struggling because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continued Brexit uncertainty and the cost-of-living crisis.
“The low turnout in that vote shows how poorly the BID was marketed,” said one business owner, who said the question many in his position were asking was: “What is this BID, why was it not properly explained and how does it benefit me?”
The objectors believe there was a lack of transparency in how the BID project was managed in its early stages, how the crucial vote last year was organised and how the BID management team plans to spend the money the scheme raises.
Among many other grievances, there is a perception that the scope of the geographical area covered by the BID was expanded without clear messaging at the time, thereby increasing the number of businesses affected, and that letters about the project were in many cases sent to landlords rather than the tenants who will have to pay the levy.
They were angry too by what many regarded as the stern tone of the bill, which threatened legal action in the event of non-payment within 21 days.
“This has been done without the agreement of the business community and without full communication with the business community,” said Jordan Ferro, who owns a business in Casemates.
“They’ve forced a product on the business community that the vast majority knew nothing about and does not agree with.”
On Tuesday, over 100 business owners from across numerous sectors gathered for a meeting to express their concerns and decide how best to proceed with their objection to the BID.
A committee for this objectors’ group was selected, again made up of eight businesspeople from a range of sectors within the catchment area.
One of those committee members was Rakesh Chablani, a businessman with several retail outlets on Main Street, who said the number of businesses joining the group was growing steadily as awareness of the BID project grew.
He told the Chronicle that a key objective for the group was to continue raising awareness of its position and ensure the anger and frustration felt by its members was properly understood by all relevant parties, including the Gibraltar Government.
Mr Chablani said too that the objectors will take legal advice to understand all the options available to them going forward.
Crucially, all those present at the meeting agreed unanimously not to pay their respective levies, and to support those who had already paid but objected to the scheme, he said.
Within the BID area on Wednesday, there were physical manifestations of the sense of grievance felt by many, as posters appeared in the shop windows of numerous businesses signalling resistance to the scheme.
They could be seen displayed in businesses ranging from shops large and small to restaurants and bars and left no doubt that an initiative meant to unite businesses had, in fact, divided them.
Among those who questioned the levy was Gibraltar Cultural Services, based in John Mackintosh Hall, which received a bill for £5,000 given the area of the premises it occupies.
“GCS cannot pay the levy as the John Mackintosh Hall belongs to the Trust, who are a charitable institution,” said Seamus Byrne, the GCS chief executive.
Under the BID scheme, charities are exempted from the levy, but for the objectors, the fact GCS received a bill in the first place was a clear indication of problems in the way the project was being managed.
The Downtown Gibraltar BID – originally named the Main Street & Surrounds BID - was initially proposed in 2019 by the GFSB, with the backing of the Chamber of Commerce and the Government.
After that, The Mosaic Partnership, a UK-based consulting team of BID specialists, was engaged to develop and manage the project.
The Downtown Gibraltar BID follows a model that already exists in numerous countries. In the UK alone, for example, there are around 350 BIDs in operation. The initial term is for five years, after which eligible businesses vote on whether or not to continue it.
BIDs are an arrangement whereby businesses come together and decide which improvements could be made in their location, how they will implement these improvements and what it will cost them.
BIDs are financed and controlled by the businesses within the selected area and seek to deliver additional projects and services over and above those already provided by public bodies.
The Gibraltar Government, which supports the Downtown Gibraltar BID, has committed to fund the scheme with £245,000 a year in addition to the levies collected from businesses.
Initially this support was described by Downtown Gibraltar as “pound for pound”, meaning the government would match all the levies collected by the BID.
In reality though, the levies collected will exceed the government contribution, which will match primarily contributions from the hospitality and retail sectors. Objectors believe the BID’s “pound for pound” claim was misleading.
The annual levy paid by businesses within the BID area amounts to 50p per square foot, although some properties and entities – for example stores, non-profit companies and charities – are excluded.
The Downtown Gibraltar management team believes most businesses will pay around 1-2% of their rent bill, adding that the maximum annual bill is capped at £5,000. It expects to raise some £580,000 in levies every year, with the government adding a further £245,000.
The BID is overseen by a board made up of businesspeople from across a range of sectors who participate on a voluntary basis. The board is made up of people who engaged with the scheme early on but, as from its second year in operation, it will be voted by participating businesses.
Downtown Gibraltar’s business plan sets out in broad terms how the total income of around £825,000 will be spent, with the largest segment - £350,000 – going to marketing, promotion and events.
The plan also earmarks expenditure of £90,000 annually to pay for a management team to run the various initiatives, which include marketing drives, leisure events aimed at attracting greater local and tourist footfall in the BID area, and promoting an overall unified approach to driving new business.
The legislation that underpins the BID was approved by the Gibraltar Parliament in May last year and requires businesses within the defined area to pay an annual levy.
George Russo, the chairman of the BID Task Group that drove the project from its inception several years ago, acknowledged his shock at the reaction from many businesses in the catchment area.
“We didn’t expect this backlash,” he said, insisting the BID team believed there had been wide consultation over many years including ample media coverage alongside direct contact with businesses.
Mr Russo recognised the low turnout in the vote last year at which the BID was approved but said this was commonplace whenever such schemes were launched, despite efforts to engage with businesses.
He noted, however, that experience from countries such as the UK showed that in 90% of cases, businesses saw the benefits and voted to continue with the schemes after the initial term was up.
Mr Russo said the goal of Downtown Gibraltar was not just to attract more people to the BID area, but to find ways that eligible businesses could benefit from each other through targeted initiatives.
The BID team is already exploring a “preferred supplier scheme”, for example, through which eligible businesses could benefit from discounts negotiated on behalf of all levy payers, as opposed to by individual businesses.
It is also planning regular street entertainment in the coming weeks that will hopefully attract more people into town.
“The BID is a proven model that works around the world,” Mr Russo said.
“We hope objectors will at least give us the time to listen and understand what we’re trying to achieve.”