By: CHRIS GRAEME
WITHIN THE space of 10 years, Lisbon has become one of Europe’s major tourist, business and cultural centres, says Lisbon Câmara President António Costa.
Speaking at the Lisbon Tourism Association’s 10th anniversary dinner at Lisbon’s Mercardo Ribeiro restaurant last Thursday, António Costa said that the city had been firmly put on the European map in terms of major sporting and cultural events, fairs, expos, seminars, conferences and concerts.
No longer a rundown quiet and quaint backwater at Europe’s end, the Portuguese capital was now internationally well known because of Expo 98, the UEFA 2004 European Cup Football Championships, Lisbon-Dakar Rally, Rock in Rio-Lisbon, its boom as a major cruise ship destination, the MTV Awards and 7 New Wonders of the World, to name but a few events. The Festival of the Oceans, a Lisbon Tourism initiative, had brought life to the riverfront and attracted 208,000 people.
But there was “still work to do” to maintain its hard fought position” within Europe, and to “attract further investment and tourism” of the most diverse kind in the face of “stiff competition” from other European treasure spots such as Prague, Bratislava, Budapest and Krakow.
“The public, thanks to the internet and new technology, had become ever more demanding and choosy when it came to booking holidays”, they could, he said, at the click of mouse, “book flights, surf for the best hotel deals and find out what was on offer” in terms of attractions, cultural events, museums, restaurants, bars and nightspots.
Former Lisbon Câmara President, João Soares, who was behind the founding of the Associação de Turismo de Lisboa in 1997, when mayor, said he felt “proud of a job well done”. He praised the role of past ATL President Dr Vítor Costa in his former role as Câmara Executive Officer in tourism and promoting the city as well as helping to set up the ATL.
João Soares, who is the son of former Portugal President Mário Soares, said that the idea of using Public Private Partnerships to promote the city and attract investment in diverse forms was “innovative for the time”. He also congratulated the hard work and efforts of other leading lights in the organisation, past and present, including Rui Horta, Pedro Pinto and Carlos Fontão de Carvalho. He said that Rui Horta, the first ATL President, has successfully married an idea and put it into practice, and added that the resulting programme had been an “innovative and dynamic set of proposals to promote the city”.
Praising António Costa, he said that the current President was “capable of continuing that tradition” and underscored the importance of attracting low cost airlines into the city.
“The ATL has had, and continues to have, a fundamental role in this,” he said without mentioning the current furore over the location of Lisbon’s new international airport.
Founding President Rui Horta said that when it was decided to set up the ATL, the aim was “to make Lisbon a destination par excellence”.
“Over the years, we have witnessed sustainable development. The ATL has 500,000 members, with new members joining every month,” he said. “This is a special day for us; we have created a model for success. Since Expo 98, we have seen record numbers of tourists and 24 new hotels.”
He said that Lisbon has gained a new dynamism since 1997 and today it was “a modern and vibrant city, one full of tradition”, that had seen “leisure and business boom”, “hotel occupancy skyrocket”, with 9,000 new rooms and “nine new hotels in the pipeline”.
“We have a secure and safe city, with a pleasant climate, lots of international cultural and sporting events, but we cannot rest on our laurels and must plan for the future,” he stressed.
The budget that has been set aside for Associação de Turismo de Lisboa in 2008 has been set at 17 million euros, triple the figure that it had been in 1998 (five million euros), of which 80 per cent was ploughed into international marketing.
Do you have a view on this story? Email: [email protected]