2016 hailed “bumper year” for Algarve

Tourism, hotel and golf bosses in the Algarve are basking in the glory of yet another “record-breaking year” for the region, which saw more bookings, revenue, tourists and golf rounds played than ever before and an economy that is growing the most out of anywhere else in Portugal. Forecasts suggest the trend will continue in 2017, but the region’s toughest challenge remains: with so much untapped potential, what can the Algarve do to establish itself, once and for all, as a year-round tourism destination instead of just filling to the brim in summer?

The really good news is that bookings at Algarve hotels increased every month this year compared to last year – even in usually quiet months like January and February.

In fact, data from Portugal’s national statistics institute (INE) shows than in the first 10 months of the year, 2016 has already trounced 2015. Hotels in the Algarve registered over 17 million bookings by the end of October, while 2015 did not exceed 16.6 million in the whole year.

Hotel revenue is also up to €863 million compared to last year’s €758 million, while the number of tourists has reached 3.8 million, up from 2015’s 3.6 million.

The golfing sector is also celebrating a year of new records.

Data shows that more golf rounds were played at Algarve courses in the first 10 months of 2016 (1.16 million) than in all of 2015 (1.08 million).

The Algarve also continues to fill its shelves with the hugely prestigious World Travel Awards, considered the ‘Oscars’ of the tourism sector.

Conrad Algarve in Quinta do Lago was again named the ‘World’s Leading Luxury Leisure Resort’ while Vila Vita Parc in Armação de Pêra retained the title of the ‘World’s Leading Luxury Green Resort’.

Meantime, another report by INE has highlighted the Algarve’s economy as the one that is growing the most in Portugal.

“Due largely to the tourism sector”, the Algarve’s economy grew 2.7% ahead of the North and Centre (+1.9% each), the Azores (+1.7%), the Alentejo (+1.4%) and Lisbon (+1.2%). Only Madeira saw its economy decline, though marginally (-0.1%).

The only negative aspect is that the Algarve accounts for a small 4.4% slice of Portugal’s GDP (gross domestic product).

Lisbon represents the largest portion (36.4%), followed by the North (29.5%), Centre (18.9%) and the Alentejo (6.4%).

Historic records

Algarve tourism boss Desidério Silva has weighed in, saying all this positive news comes as an “excellent Christmas present” in a region that is “setting new historic records year after year” and “establishing itself as the main tourism destination in Portugal”.

Speaking to the Resident, he said that the “extremely positive results” boil down to an “increased focus on promoting the Algarve” in Portugal and abroad, and “better preparation to welcome holidaymakers”.

The president of the regional tourism board (RTA) shared the credit of the success with the region’s hoteliers, restaurants, businesses, security forces and golf courses and “everyone else” who contributed to the bumper year.

He admits, however, that there is still a “long road ahead” for the Algarve to tap into its full potential as a leading tourism destination, capable of attracting a significant number of tourists all year-long.

“We have been creating conditions for the Algarve to be more than just hotels. Visitors need to have more options than just staying at the hotel or enjoying the traditional sun and beach,” Silva told us.

In a bid to turn this around, several measures have been taken. Most notable is the €1.5 million government initiative entitled ‘Algarve 365’, which is already in place with over 1,000 events scheduled in the Algarve between October and May.

New air links from Faro Airport are also being launched during winter, while existing ones are being kept running even during the low season. Just recently, British low-cost airline easyJet announced it would start linking Faro to Nice and Lille in France in 2017.

The government has also announced an “absolute novelty” – a new commission to redesign management of the Algarve’s ports, with €30 million ready to be ploughed into making Portimão more cruise ship-friendly and turning Faro port into a marina.

Hoteliers advise caution despite “excellent results”

The new tourism statistics are definitely excellent news, the Algarve’s hoteliers association (AHETA) agrees, but they should also be analysed with caution. As they told us, the positive data released by INE does not completely reflect hotels’ true results.

“It doesn’t take into account certain aspects such as the increase of accommodation in the Algarve,” the association warns.

Legal holiday rentals (aka Local Lodging or Alojamento Local) did not use to be included in the statistics. Now that they are, the region’s tourism numbers have logically increased, it explained.

Nonetheless, the association commends the “truly positive” results the region has registered and agrees that the sector is set to continue growing in 2017.

BY MICHAEL BRUXO [email protected]