Algarve, surviving (and thriving) in a post-pandemic world

The Algarve has overcome most of the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic and, in some cases, has emerged as an even more attractive destination for residents and tourists, with an increase in inquiries from people “rethinking” where they want to live and more and more “digital nomads” moving to the region.

These were some of the main takeaways from a virtual meeting entitled ‘Post Covid Strategies & Challenges: The Responses From Resorts In The Algarve’, organised by the Ireland Portugal Business Network (IPBN) on Thursday (January 20).

The event was moderated by Chair of the IPBN Algarve Committee, Sharon Farrell, and including several keynote speakers from the tourism sector: Chitra Stern, Founder of Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts; João Richard Costa, Director of Sales & Marketing at Ombria Resort; Michael Stock, Assistant Manager at Quinta dos Vales; and Gavin Scott, Senior Partner at Blevins Franks.

Each speaker provided insight into what their life has been like since the start of the pandemic and how this global issue has affected their businesses.

“We’ve learned a lot. It’s been character-building,” said Chitra Stern, who started off the meeting stating that the “market has changed” since the start of the pandemic.

“More and more people are looking for safe destinations to travel to,” the entrepreneur said, adding that the demand for “villas” has surged.

“I think Portugal’s reputation of being highly vaccinated and taking much more care is being appreciated, and in fact we’ve seen this upward trend of people moving here from all over the world, from the USA and Brazil,” said Stern, who during the pandemic also opened an international school in Lisbon called United Lisbon.

Some in the tourism sector feel the pandemic has had a positive impact on the region from a business perspective.

Although Covid-19 has posed new challenges when it comes to finding labour in the construction sector or dealing with outbreaks among workers, João Richard Costa from Loulé’s still-to-open Ombria Resort revealed that the pandemic has helped “accelerate” the demand for the slow-living lifestyle that it intends to offer.

“In terms of the market and the target clients that we’ve been selling properties to, Covid has actually helped us move forward, because the resort we are offering is quite different from others. We’ve felt that more and more people are looking for this slow-living lifestyle, and I think Covid has only accelerated this process,” said Costa.

“We’ve seen a lot more digital nomads moving to the Algarve, which is one of their preferred destinations as there is great infrastructure, fast internet connections almost everywhere, there are many co-working spaces, and it’s been great to see these people come to the Algarve more and more,” he added.

Providing further insight into these new trends was Gavin Scott, who revealed that the pandemic was also one of the reasons why many people decided to start calling the Algarve their home and not just a holiday destination.

As he explained, this happened with people who had holiday homes in the Algarve and during the lockdown were forced to stay longer due to cancelled flights and to others who “made a conscious decision to stay longer”.

Said Gavin Scott, the low-density housing in the Algarve made it “very comfortable” for these people to ‘ride out’ the pandemic in the region.

“The supermarkets were quiet, the shelves were full, there was no fighting for packets of toilet roll (…) so they were spending time here and that forced time spent became a time to realise that they were enjoying their time in Portugal, they felt safe and comfortable,” he said. This lead many to switch their living arrangements.

“So instead of Portugal being the holiday home and, say, England being their main home, they turned Portugal into their main home,” Scott said.

Others found themselves in lockdown in the UK and started “rethinking their lifestyle” and yearning for the kind of open spaces that Portugal, and more specifically the Algarve has to offer. This was especially noticeable among people working from home, said Scott.

Representing the Algarve’s winemaking sector, Michael Stock from Quinta dos Vales revealed that Covid-19 acted as an “accelerant” for a change that was already underway.

“The change is that we are far closer with our clients,” said Stock, adding that while the business’ overall numbers are down due to how badly the tourism sector was affected, there is optimism for the future.

“What we have done is gone into the digital world and had more communication with (clients) on that front. Our business model is now more involved with trying to bring our clients into the activity rather than just offering services,” he said.

“Whether that is buying a home on our wine estate or making their own wine with us, it’s all a much more in-depth and detailed experience and more of a collaboration,” Stock added.

Following parents’ footsteps
The “rethinking” process brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic has also seen more and more children of pensioners following in their parents’ footsteps and moving to Portugal, Gavin Scott said.

“We’re starting to see more and more of the children of these parents now coming and saying, ‘actually, we like the lifestyle that mom and dad have and we’re going to come down and join in’,” Scott added.

This has led to a paradigm shift where Portugal and the Algarve are no longer being seen as just a retirement destination, with more and more working age people moving here.

Healthcare advantages
Not only does Portugal offer free public healthcare via its national health service (SNS), but the country also offers what Chitra Stern described as “very affordable” private health insurance packages.

“I managed to get my dad, who has heart issues, covered even with pre-existing conditions,” Stern revealed.

This is especially important for people looking to move to Portugal from destinations where access to healthcare might not be so simple or inexpensive, such as the USA, she pointed out.

“There are good private hospital networks being built. The Algarve has the HPA with good coverage across the region. In the rest of the country, there is CUF, Hospital da Luz…,” the businesswoman stressed.

“This means a lot, especially post-pandemic. This priority for healthcare has become a big thing in people’s heads. Talking to Americans, one of the reasons for them moving over is to have access to healthcare. There are different options available here, and private insurance here is not completely unaffordable as it may be in other countries,” she added.

If you would like to see the full event, search for ‘Post Covid Strategies & Challenges: The Responses From Resorts In The Algarve’ on YouTube.

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