by EMMA BERTENSHAW [email protected]
Reviving old port areas is a mammoth undertaking but, with investment, can become a tourist hotspot as proved by the Albert docks in Liverpool and Darling harbour in Sydney.
On a smaller scale, but with no less ambition, Portimão has undertaken improvement plans in order to accommodate the larger cruise liners which have become much more frequent in the last few years.
In an unrivalled position at the southernmost point of Europe, Portugal is already a stopping point for most major ocean liners, who either dock at Lisbon or Portimão before heading for the Mediterranean or Atlantic – or, in some cases, the Bahamas.
A spokesman from the Portimão tourism office said: “Portimão has a good reputation, it is considered safe and cruising publications have rated it very highly in terms of service and experience.”
However, as a natural harbour it needs constant dredging and maintenance, which requires national or even international support.
Some improvements have already taken place to help accommodate increasing traffic and there are current ecological studies helping to maintain high standards of quality.
The Portonovo Project (www.portonovoproject.org), an international research initiative backed by EU funding to develop European ports while maintaining high water quality standards, is involved locally.
Specialists from the Algarve University have been working closely with the port authorities in order to collect information, both actual and historical, and compile a database of reference material to advise future management of the harbour area.
Dr Maria Bebiano, who is working with a team on the project from the University, explained: “The Portonovo project aims to establish a resource for a good ecological status of water quality in harbours across Europe under the framework of the European Water Framework Directive.
“Other harbours involved include Huelva, Falmouth, Cherbourg and Santander. All have different dimensions and different activities.”
The final stages of the project are due for completion this year.
According to a report published by Portimão Câmara, works have been undertaken to dredge the harbour and extend pier length in order to allow two ships of more than 2,000 passengers to dock as well as purchase equipment and create a new passenger terminal.
Meanwhile, most cruise liners state that the beaches of the Algarve are the main attraction to which visitors are taken by shuttle bus.
But with the city as the docking point, a tourist destination directly at the harbour could be considered such as tourist attractions found in other cities.
Furthermore, the Câmara report also states that there is enough demand from cruise companies for development to take place.
Between 2007 and 2011, passenger traffic increased by 673% from 5,798 to 44, 841 people, at a time when investment in the port has been reduced.
With such an increase in cruise tourism, it would seem there is an opportunity for the local government and businesses to turn their attention towards attracting this new source of income.
A major example of this kind of investment will be launched in Northern Ireland this year.
Belfast has sought to turn the story of the Titanic, built in the city, into a multi-million pound tourist attraction (www.the-titanic.com) on the date of its 100 year anniversary.
Focussing on the proud heritage and record achievements of the former ship building port, events will centre on an imposing ship-shaped museum that cost £97 million.
With the historical significance of the Algarve coast as the starting point for world exploration, projects to promote Algarve’s heritage could really capture the imagination of cruise-line guests while also benefiting from the tourists on the shore.