“Businesses are eager to speak to people face to face”
This weekend could not come fast enough for the team at foreign residents’ association afpop, which is preparing to hold its first physical Better Living in Portugal (BLiP) event since 2019.
“We’ve done all the work, now all we have to do is open the doors on Saturday morning and see if anyone shows up,” afpop’s cheerful CEO Michael Reeve told the Resident this week.
The Covid-19 pandemic and the restrictions that were enforced meant that afpop was unable to hold its flagship event in 2020 and 2021, which left the association with a decision to make – what to do about BLiP?
“In the end, we decided to hold it online. We gave all exhibitors, free of charge, the opportunity to have a space on the event’s website, where they could post photos, their websites or whatever they wanted,” said Reeve, adding that it was important to make sure “people did not forget about BLiP” and that the association maintained its link with businesses.
“There was a trail of thought to not hold the event and then relaunch it after the pandemic, but we wanted to show that we were staying as close to normal as we could, while everything else was being thrown up in the air,” the CEO explained.
“BLiP takes up a lot of time, and if we had stopped doing it, and then three years later tried to fit it back into our working routine, we never would have been able to because the time would have become filled with other things,” he added.
As the epidemiological situation improved in 2022 and life started slowly returning to normal, afpop started working on bringing back the physical edition of BLiP. But after two years of being held solely online, there was some concern that interest from businesses might not have been the same.
“We were a little bit nervous about how long it was going to take for businesses to commit to (taking part) in BLiP. Some years it has been a real chore, while other years we have been sold out right away, and the latter is exactly what happened this year,” Reeve told us.
“At the start of the year, we still weren’t sure about what restrictions would be in place, so we didn’t launch anything until March. However, the interest from businesses was immediate,” he said.
According to Michael Reeve, many exhibitors who had stopped taking part in BLiP have returned, while some new businesses are also participating.
During our interview, only three spaces were left to fill on the floor plan, although those were expected to be booked very soon.
All in all, there will be around 100 exhibitors at BLiP this year.
“People seem to be keen about being there. It seems to us that businesses are anxious to get back and speak to people face-to-face again,” said Michael Reeve.
One of the main novelties at BLiP this year will be the ‘Community’ section, which will feature 20 non-profit or charitable organisations from a wide range of social causes.
“We were looking at the ‘Better Living’ part of our exhibition, what that meant and how we might expand on that,” Reeve told us.
“Even before the pandemic, and this has become even more relevant, it seemed to me that we were organising an event about how people can make their lives better while all around us some people were living dreadful lives,” he said.
Thus, afpop decided to offer up 20 spots at the event for free to organisations involved with worthy causes.
“We’ve come up with a new tagline, ‘Helping the Community Through Unity’. The whole idea is for people to come to BLiP to talk about making their life better, but also look at what people are doing to make others’ lives better,” he explained, adding that afpop often gets asked by members about which organisations need support.
“This is our way of showing people which organisations need support or volunteers,” Reeve added.
While the anticipation for the start of BLiP is reaching fever pitch at afpop, the staff stress that the process of organising the in-person event once again has been “rewarding”.
“Seeing the enthusiasm of our staff taking on their roles and watching it all come together, and the floorplan take shape, it’s been fun. But as I say, the proof of the pudding will be at one minute to 10am on Saturday morning,” he said.
One major change that afpop has noticed in the last three years is the growing number of Americans moving to Portugal.
“In 2019, only 2% of our members were Americans. Now it’s at 12%,” Michael Reeve told the Resident, adding that many of them are still in the process of moving to Portugal.
“They’re coming over in big numbers, and I don’t see it stopping anytime soon,” he said, adding that Portugal is cementing its place on the radar of Americans looking to move abroad.
“When Americans are looking for somewhere to go, Portugal is at the top of the search engines, and it’s because so many Americans are writing about it.”
Overall, afpop has seen significant growth over the last few years.
“We have 9,200 members now, while before the pandemic we had 6,700. We’re still growing this month and will probably grow next month due to BLiP,” said Reeve.
He added: “My target for this year was 9,100 (members), and we already have 9,200 with four months to go.”
At the moment, around 50% of members are Brits, 12% Americans, 11% Germans, 8% Dutch and Scandinavians (each), followed by several other nationalities including Brazilians, French, Irish, Canadian, Australian, South African, Belgian, Chinese and even Portuguese.
Almost 20 years at afpop
For Michael Reeve, 63, the opportunity to work at afpop came almost completely by chance.
He decided to move here with his family in 2002 after having spent some years living in the Algarve in the 1980s.
“I was working for the police on the shift system, I was a police control manager, and it was killing me. Every time I went home, it was either dark or raining, and it was depressing,” said Reeve.
After speaking with his wife, who was excited about the idea of moving abroad, they decided to bite the bullet and move to Portugal.
They arrived in December 2002 and started looking into renting a car for a while until they heard about someone who was looking to sell an “old beat-up Renault 19”.
“So, we thought of buying that instead of renting one,” Reeve said, adding that a friend advised him to go to afpop to join as a member due to their insurance plan.”
“I came to the office in Portimão, and while I was standing there waiting to be seen, I saw a notice on the wall saying that a position was vacant for executive office. I asked for an application form and, four weeks later, I was working there,” he told us.