Euro 2004 brings mixed blessings

With just a few weeks to go before the Euro 2004 tournament, hotels are showing a 25 per cent increase in bookings for June. Almost all the hotels based near match sites are now full. And the bookings are flooding in, despite the fact that some establishments are charging 50 per cent more than the seasonal norm.

“In Porto and Lisbon principally, because there are more games being played in these cities, hotels are full. There is enormous demand, especially on match days, but this is not to say that this applies to the whole month,” said Alves de Sousa, President of the Associação dos Hotéis de Portugal (AHP – The Portuguese Hotel Association). Demand is also high in other towns in northern Portugal, such as Viseu.

In the Algarve, many hotels are now fully booked between June 12 and June 21, even though some beds are still available in other establishments such as aldeamentos (tourist villages). This is happening at a time when Algarve hotels are recording, on average, a 25 per cent price increase in June. Alves de Sousa also admits that, although some hotels are charging elevated prices, there are also cases where regular clients are ‘exonerated’ from the increases. De Sousa maintains that Portugal does not need more hotels but, instead, more markets and more clients. He is optimistic about the future and the impact of the tournament that will attract 8,000 journalists to Portugal and, hopefully, convey a positive image of the country to outsiders.

Agents feel the pinch

In contrast to hoteliers, travel agents are reportedly feeling the pinch, saying that they are having more difficulty attracting regular summer tourists to Portugal. The sector has also been forced to raise prices to compensate for the lack of demand. Mariana Delgado, from the firm Promenade, which works mainly with French clients, says the Euro 2004 tournament has not benefited her company one iota and that, instead, it has led to a 50 per cent fall in business. “People are scared of being near the scene of possible terrorist attacks. And then the prices, principally in hotels, have shown a marked increase,” she says.

Catering for canny consumers

Preoccupied with conveying a positive image, José Manuel Esteves from ARESP- (Associação da Restauração e Similares de Portugal – the Portuguese Restaurant Association) has pledged that there will be no exceptional increases in prices in restaurants, bars or discos, apart from those in unlicensed establishments. He has also stressed that hygiene and security standards will be rigorously observed. With a ratio of one eating establishment for every 95 inhabitants, as opposed to the European average of one per 400, Portugal does not lack cafés, cake shops, cervejarias, restaurants, bars or discos. “Given the vast choice available, it would be hard to raise prices because the tourist is a canny consumer,” says Esteves.