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Portugal has a marketing problem says ex-NY mayor

By CHRIS GRAEME [email protected]

Portugal has it all – fine, sandy beaches, a great climate, wonderful scenery and historic towns, according to ex-mayor of New York Rudolph Giuliani. The problem is that no-one thinks about visiting the country worldwide when planning a holiday or conference.

Addressing the Portuguese Tourism Summit in Estoril last week, the mayor, who helped coordinate the emergency response to the September 11 terrorist attack and cleaned up New York’s once chronic crime problem, said that Portugal needed to have an effective marketing campaign to tell the world “it was out there”.

“When people think about Portugal, they don’t think about crime or terrorism, the problem is that they don’t think about you at all!” he said.

Talking to a select group of tourism movers and shakers at the Estoril Congress Centre about Leadership and Change in Times of Crisis, he gave a few pointers on how Portugal could better promote its cities.

New York example

The one-time mayor, who had been elected in 1993, said that when the Twin Towers had been attacked by terrorists, his initial thought and fear was that “we’re never going to get over this”.

“Of course my logic told me that we would indeed overcome this crisis, probably the worst crisis in the city’s history, but at the time I just couldn’t feel it in my soul,” he said.

He said he thought they were never going to be able “to recover from this” but added that from adversity and the way the crisis was handled, tourism and visitor numbers shot up by a staggering 40% since 2001.

“Despite not being able to force New Yorkers to feel good about living in New York at that time, I knew I had to try because each day that passed in the aftermath we were losing millions of dollars,” he admitted, adding that when he became mayor, New York already had a problem as the crime capital of the United States.

Today it is the most visited city in the States.

“It was important for me to pass a message to the terrorists that they weren’t going to win, to stop us and we weren’t going to take this lying down as well as sending out a positive message of proactive reconstruction to the rest of the world,” he said.

When elected as Mayor, New York was the “Crime Capital of the United States” and one of the “most dangerous cities in the world,” he said admitting that “you either love the hustle and bustle of non-stop New York or hate it”.

“I love it, and often I suffer from insomnia when globetrotting around the world. So you know what I do? I record typical New York noises – the traffic, the dust carts, and the sirens – and that helps me get off to sleep,” he admitted.

“Our main challenge back then, apart from our chronic debt, was to clean up crime and transform New York into a peaceful and safe city in which to live,” he said, adding that it was interestingly easier when there was a limited budget than when the city’s coffers were awash with cash.

One of the first things Rudolph Giuliani did was hire well-known New York celebrities in an ambitious TV and billboard marketing campaign to promote the city – using personalities that people worldwide as well as in the US could identify with.

Another effective tool was to encourage, through cut-price licence fees, filmmakers and studios to set films in New York and rebuild the city’s iconic image worldwide. 

The mayor told how he and his team “played on all fronts” until the number of people coming to live and work in the city jumped from around seven to eight million to 10 million in a few years.

Effective marketing

Rudolph Giuliani suggested that Portugal needed to attract top companies by creating investment and research and development centres and said how impressed he was by the number of big international names lining the motorway in business parks between Lisbon and Estoril.

“You’ve got the base here, now you’ve got to figure out how to attract more of these companies to open up their offices in Portugal and relocate their head offices here,” he said.

“Tourists don’t want to know about the country’s economic problems, they are just interested in a pleasant place to visit. The problem is that with so much choice, you’ve got to get Portugal in their list of must-visit places,” he stressed.

For the New York politician, it was a question of effective marketing and publicity. Selling the strong points that the country already had: good beaches, good food, low crime rate, an interesting history and a wonderful climate.

Marcio Favilla, Director of the World Tourism Organisation, upgraded forecasts for tourism growth for 2011 worldwide, suggesting that “numbers pointed to a growth of between 6% and 7% above initial estimates which had been set at 4%”.

World international arrivals had topped 944 million in 2010 and were expected to reach 1.6 billion tourists by 2020.

The President of the Portuguese Tourism Confederation, José Carlos Pinto Coelho, said the time was ripe to “find transversal projects involving a large number of people and places rather than developing projects in isolation”.

There was no reason why Lisbon couldn’t compete with Barcelona or Madrid when it came to international business as a centre for commerce and services.

He said that Lisbon’s main challenge now lay in climbing the ladder from being the 16th business city in Europe to being in 10th position within seven years.

This sentiment was also echoed by the Secretary of State for Tourism, Bernardo Trindade, who stressed that there had been growth in the sector which represented 44% of national exports.