Occupancy at all-time low

By ELOISE WALTON [email protected]

Occupation levels in hotel and tourist complexes in the Algarve last year were the worst on record.

The only upbeat news from an otherwise bad year for tourism in the region was an increase in national and Spanish tourists and the increasing popularity of three-star accommodation.

Figures, compiled over the last 15 years by the region’s hotel and tourism accommodation association (AHETA), show that 2009 was the worst since their records began.

“The average occupation of tourist accommodation in the region was 52.1 per cent, which is a fall of 12 per cent compared to the previous year,” said AHETA President Elidérico Viegas during a presentation at the association’s headquarters in Albufeira on January 25.

In the past, the focus in the region has been on luxury and the construction of five-star hotels but the figures for last year seem to show a change of quality in tourism in the Algarve as many visitors are now choosing three-star accommodation.

Tourism expert and author Jack Soifer believes that the Algarve has invested too heavily in luxury accommodation, which is no longer sought after by visitors.

He told the Algarve Resident: “Around 20 or 30 years ago, people did not have much material wealth so a holiday was a way of living the dream and having luxury. Now, people have a much better standard of living and holidays are not about material wealth and luxury accommodation but about happiness and having experiences with other people and family.”

He added that, in his opinion, the Algarve has seen its best years and that 2010 will be worse than 2009.

“This year will be worse, not in quantity but in revenue. Hotels are slashing their prices and giving huge discounts to keep the business going. I think that one way to solve the problem would be to transform tourist developments into affordable housing for local residents to buy.”

Meanwhile, figures from Faro airport showed that passenger numbers were down by seven per cent in 2009 compared to 2008, a total fall of more than 380,000 visitors.

National tourists increased significantly last year, representing 38.2 per cent of visitors, followed by British nationals at 24.9 per cent, although the British tourists were dominant in terms of hotel occupancy in the region.

“With the exception of national and Spanish tourists, all other nationalities of visitors fell last year, especially the British, which we attribute to the weak pound sterling and competition from other destinations where their spending power is greater,” said Elidérico Viegas.

With the fall in visitor numbers, AHETA’s figures for visitors to theme parks such as Zoomarine and to golf courses also decreased for 2009 compared to previous years.

According to Oceânico golf’s chief executive officer Christopher Stilwell, the sport is an important attraction to the region outside of the summer months.

“In 2009, we recorded just above one million rounds of golf, which is a significant fall on previous years. However, with a golf course we cannot simply close. We must maintain the greens and become more competitive to attract players,” he said.

Meanwhile, the residential tourism market recorded growth in 2009, especially during the second half of the year.

“We are hoping that the end of the crisis is near. There is a tendency for investments to increase towards the end of a crisis and we are convinced that 2010 will see renewed investment,” said residential tourism specialist Reinaldo Teixeira.

AHETA has made a series of proposals for the government to help the tourism industry overcome the current crisis.

These include providing a credit line for companies, better spending of Allgarve funds and decreasing VAT on food stuffs from 12 per cent to five per cent, among others.

Do you have a view on this story? Please email Editor Inês Lopes at [email protected]