Elidérico Viegas, president of AHETA, the Algarve hoteliers’ association Photo: BRUNO FILIPE PIRES/OPEN MEDIA GROUP

Algarve hoteliers urge government to reverse golden visa changes

The hoteliers’ association in the Algarve (AHETA) has joined the chorus of protests about the recently approved changes to Portugal’s golden visa programme, warning that they could do even more harm to the region which has been “hit the hardest” by the pandemic.

Starting in July, the Algarve, as well as Lisbon and Porto, will no longer ‘qualify’ investors for a ‘golden visa’ that affords them unlimited access to the Schengen space.

Says the government, the goal is to encourage investors to put their money into “low-density” areas which have for the most part been overlooked.

But the decision has faced strong backlash ever since it was approved just before Christmas.

AHETA warns that the changes will deal yet another blow to the Algarve, a region which is already facing an “unprecedented economic and social catastrophe”.

Despite the hardships it is dealing with, the golden visa scheme still generated around €20 million of investment for the Algarve in 2020, helping keep property agencies in business and “thousands” of people employed.

“The Algarve is the third region in Portugal that attracts the most foreign investment after Lisbon and Porto,” the association stresses in a statement to the press.

“Thus, in the best interests of the Algarve and the country’s economy, AHETA urges the government to not exclude the region from the so-called ‘golden visa’ programme, as it is one of the most important mechanisms to attract direct foreign investment,” it adds.

According to hoteliers, the scheme has been a “huge success” and has played a great role in the “social and economic development of the Algarve”.

They also say that while the changes aim to channel foreign investment into “interior regions”, they do not take into consideration the “vocations” of each region.

AHETA stresses that the scheme has generated around €5 billion for the national economy since it was launched in 2012, which represents around 10% of the total direct foreign investment in the country during that time.

It adds that around “94% of the money was invested in property” and “97% in coastal areas. This has been predominantly in and around Lisbon but also in other coastal regions such as Porto and the Algarve.

“We cannot risk driving away important investments to rival destinations during such a critical and hard period for the Algarve’s regional tourism activity, despite the commendable initiative to increase foreign investment in low-density regions,” the association defends.

Meanwhile, many others have also voiced their discontent.

Last month, Luís Lima of APEMIP (the association of real estate professionals) lambasted the decision.

“The way I see it, there couldn’t be a worse time to introduce these changes. It was already a mistake when they were announced in the 2020 State Budget, but the decision has become all the more incomprehensible within the context of the pandemic,” he said.

Leader writer Armando Esteves Pereira has also called the government’s objective ‘poetic’ but one that ‘risks killing the hen that lays the golden eggs’/the proverbial Golden Goose.

“If the government wanted to incentivise investment in the country’s interior it should have created different scales of investment,” he wrote in Correio da Manhã last month.

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