From humble beginnings, Gianpula Village has grown into one of the standout entertainment destinations in Malta, constantly innovating through its variety of venues, concepts and offerings. For Managing Director Matthew de Giorgio, the ultimate ambition is nothing short of establishing Gianpula as the very best nightlife complex in the world.
When Matthew de Giorgio last travelled to Ibiza, a not unexpected destination for a man in his line of work, he spent his time relaxing in the north, far from the island’s world-famous nightlife hotspots. “I only went to a club once, to meet someone, but I left after five minutes,” he says with a laugh. In Gianpula Village, the entertainment mecca he has developed and operated for 20 years, Matthew has created a concept that attracts thousands. Yet, he recognises that keeping that going – and growing – means keeping himself at a distance.
“I’m highly disciplined, and I have a tunnel vision mentality,” he says. “That’s what got me to where I am today. If you’re not careful, this industry could very easily take you down the wrong path. Yes, it can be fun, but at the end of the day, it’s a business.”
Matthew was just 18 years old when he finished his schooling in the UK and decided to forgo university to dive straight into business. At the time, Gianpula – named after the original landowners – was a single small venue. In Matthew’s view, “it had a bit of everything but lacked direction”. In contrast, Matthew’s vision was a clear one. “My aim was to create an entertainment village,” he says. “I felt I could offer Malta something completely different – something it didn’t really have at the time and that nobody was trying to create.”
Realising that vision, though, was not immediately straightforward. Still a teenager, Matthew had to quickly earn respect from employees and managers much older than him, some of whom had been with the business for 10 years or more. “There was an older mentality in place and many people couldn’t understand the direction I wanted to push towards,” he recalls. Just a few years into running the business, Matthew even experienced an armed hold-up, which made him question whether he should continue. “I decided to set aside the issues that were on my mind and carry on building the business to get it to where I wanted it to be: creating a different venue year in, year out, and expanding the entertainment village.”
The new Gianpula began as a summer spot but grew quickly, first with different venues for different genres and demographics, then with indoor settings to extend the party into winter. There was also a pool club, as well as smaller capacity venues that allowed Gianpula to diversify its offering and nurture new DJs at earlier stages of their careers, including many now-established names like Miss Roberta, Carl Bee and Luke Adams. There was also a push into the festivals market with Gianpula Fields, fulfilling the vision of a 365-day nightlife hub. Over time, there has even been the development of new brands such as Gianpula Burgers and a merchandise line.
For Matthew, the proudest and most significant moments came when he finally got to see the whole vision come together, first in 2014 with around five venues operating simultaneously, and then in 2022 when that number rose to seven, with festivals in full swing. Along the way there have been other milestones too, including hosting some of the world’s biggest DJs such as Antoine Clamaran and Tiesto, as well as the Gianpula Main Room being named among the top 100 clubs in the world by the International Nightlife Association.
“I think the key to our success has been the fact that we’ve created a one-stop shop,” Matthew says. “If people want to opt for a different genre of music, they can just cross the road and go to another. I feel people today, including tourists, see us as a destination rather than just a venue. Gianpula Village has become a brand in itself, so people come to us without even knowing what’s on that day. They come here and then decide what they’re in the mood for. For me, seeing those thousands of happy faces – the crowds, the reviews and social media after a great night – is what makes it all worth it.”
When the pandemic struck in 2020, the live events sector was among the hardest hit. Like many, Matthew never imagined that the ordeal would last as long as it did. When reality hit, the challenge was how to adapt. “We were very creative in finding ways to keep operating,” Matthew explains.
“We created a drive-through concept, the Christmas Illuminated Trail, which was a challenge because we had never ventured into the family market. But it proved very successful, and we continued it into year two and now into year three as a walkthrough experience at Verdala. When the Government was only allowing seated events, we also created the fantastic Boozy Bingo concept. People loved it, and although it was entirely a result of the pandemic, it’s continuing now even though the pandemic has eased.”
It was only in 2022 that mass events restarted in earnest and, despite some demographics taking longer to return in numbers, Matthew says business in the summer season was already close to pre-pandemic levels. Nevertheless, things have changed: more people are expecting a cashless experience and looking for less-crowded venues, prompting Gianpula to fit fewer people than it did in the past. “Another thing we’ve got better at is our VIP products,” he adds. “During the pandemic, people got used to lounge bars and table service areas, so when we reopened for mass events, our guests were still asking for these services. It’s a growing trend, and I think we’ve seen that the majority are willing to pay if you offer a good service.”
However, a challenging side effect of the reopening was a sudden influx of events, resulting in an oversaturated summer calendar. “I think several event organisers didn’t do as well as expected because there was too much going on,” Matthew says. “There’s an element of the survival of the fittest and summer 2022 definitely showed that. During the pandemic, the sector managed to work towards a common goal as one, but once we restarted, everyone went their own way. If there’s one thing that should happen now, it’s for everyone to come together again to bring more people to Malta for its entertainment sector. Everyone will be better off because that’s the future.”
This vision of the future is built on Matthew’s observations of the industry’s emerging trends. “I feel festivals are going to take over,” he says. “People want more of an experience. They don’t just want to come to a nightclub, have a few drinks and listen to a DJ playing the normal tracks. They want to see something happen, they want attractions, they want brands, they want to move from one club to another. People are becoming more demanding and expecting more value for money.”
Matthew says one major hurdle to people viewing Malta as a major entertainment destination is that its nightclubs close relatively early compared to competitors elsewhere in the Mediterranean. “I feel that to remain competitive we must extend our opening hours to 5am or 6am, at least for indoor venues,” he says. Staffing remains another issue across the sector, particularly due to delays in the approval of visas for third-country nationals.
Nevertheless, Matthew is optimistic about the industry’s future, and Gianpula’s place within it – not least because the Gianpula Main Room recently ranked 30 among the World’s Best 100 Clubs. “I am constantly working to improve our product, and that never stops because trends keep changing,” he says. “I want to keep moving up the top 100s. Today, the club should be positioned in the world’s top 15, and I truly believe we can get there through hard work and a concerted effort to attract people to Malta as an entertainment destination.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders
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