National media may be focusing with gloom on Portugal’s political crisis right now, but the wider world is looking at the bigger picture – which is a little country that offers visitors and investors a great deal…
This week, the UK Telegraph ran with a forecast that Portugal is likely be “one of the safest places in Europe this winter as a new Covid wave unfolds”, while the British travel press ran an interview with tourism boss Luís Araújo in London for the World Travel Market – arguably one of the most important tourism fairs – headlined: “Portugal has changed for the better during Covid”.
The kudos won through the country’s stellar vaccination campaign coordinated by a self-effacing naval commander is still working its magic with the world’s press.
Indeed, vice-admiral Henrique Gouveia e Melo has been one of the guest speakers at Lisbon’s Web Summit this week – another venue where positive messages about this country rang loud and clear.
The government may have ‘fallen’ but Portugal certainly hasn’t.
Two leading figures on the national scene – mayor of Lisbon Carlos Moedas and economy minister Pedro Siza Vieira – both on opposite sides of the political spectrum, are showing no signs of concern over what is going on (or indeed what isn’t) in parliament.
Welcoming the 40,000 guests to the four-day event at Altice Arena and FIL, they both extolled the virtues of Portugal in a world that is rapidly lacking peace, safety, freedom, space and quality of life.
Mr Moedas is intent on turning Lisbon into ‘the world capital of innovation’ (“a factory of unicorns!”) while Mr Siza Vieira pulled out all the relevant statistics to show this is the ‘best country to live and invest’ – the “third safest in the world” (his words, the 2021 Global Peace Index actually put Portugal in 4th place behind Iceland, New Zealand and Denmark), and the safest place in Europe when it comes to risk of contracting Covid-19…
Of course, all these assurances can be taken with a pinch of salt. For every expert who extolls on the wonders of the vaccinations, you can find just as many others that warn their effects are transitory and falling. But positive predictions sound so much better than endless bulletins on party-political infighting and presidential dilemma. An injection of positivity is so much more inspiring than one heralding ‘the end is nigh’ – and to this extent the predictions of Dr Bruno Ciancio in the Telegraph will have earned Portugal immeasurable Brownie points.
Dr Ciancio is the director of surveillance at the European Centre of Disease Control (ECDC). As such his job is to monitor disease across the continent – and in his professional opinion Portugal and Malta are the only countries “likely to avoid the consistent waves of infection” still on the horizon due to the pandemic.
The “critical factor”, he explains, is vaccine coverage across an entire population. Because Portugal has around 87% of citizens double-jabbed (Malta has slightly less), in his mindset, the “link between infection and severe disease will be broken” and there will be “substantial impact on reducing transmission”.
Now, there are quite a few studies that would disagree with Dr Ciancio – but they are not getting the kind of media coverage his interview with the Telegraph received; and they are not as ‘positive’ over the outcome of this winter.
Accepting that the doctor knows what he is talking about, one major warning bell is how travel may be impacted as the months unfold.
His predictions point to countries like Germany, Ireland, Denmark and the United Kingdom remaining victims to “consistent waves of infection” due to their lower than stellar vaccination levels, while Eastern Europe where vaccine rollouts have been sluggish could well see (in some cases, is already seeing) the virus “spiralling out of control”.
In other words, Portugal may be ‘sitting pretty’ right now, but how the rest of Europe (and the world) develops through the winter remains an unknown.
But in London this week, Turismo de Portugal boss Luís Araújo has been adamant that Portugal has learnt from the pandemic.
Talking to Travel Trade Gazette (TTG@World Travel Market) he agreed that the current political instability could affect the image of the country, but in his opinion the average foreigner “really isn’t interested in the budget” (the fall of which heralded the break-up of parliament).
“I believe we have a lot of capital in terms of confidence (in Portugal) as a destination”, he told TTG, and that’s what he intends continuing to work at.
In spite of all the problems caused by the pandemic, Portugal has managed to strengthen its brand and maintain its image as a “trendy, fashionable and social” destination, he said.
So far the country has restored around 60% of pre-pandemic connectivity – which Mr Araújo expects to rise to between 80-90% this year.
New additions like British Airways and Lufthansa flights to the Azores, easyJet’s new Faro base and Iberia introducing Lisbon and Porto stopovers have all helped keep Portugal in travellers’ sights.
Meantime, “significant new demand is coming from Brazil and the US… with Madeira gaining a direct US connection for the very first time…. the Azores and Algarve are still popular, and lesser-travelled regions like the Alentejo are “coming to the fore”.
The aim is to consolidate Portugal as a year-round destination, whether for wine tourism, surfing, golf, cycling or walking.
The new wine tourism campaign, ‘Wine pairs with Portugal’, is supported by a digital platform, and the tourism boss said he believes dispersing tourists around the country will contribute to a wider sustainability push through to 2027.
“We want to be one of the most sustainable countries in the world, especially in terms of tourism,” Araujo told TTG.
It was yet another ‘positive intervention’ on the international scene, while the biggest push came at the Web Summit where so many thousands of ‘young trendsetters’ were told that Lisbon might just end up being the ‘hub of the future’.
“Lisbon and Portugal are places to live and invest, to do business in”, promised the PS economy minister.
“From January to September (this year) two thirds of our electricity came from renewable sources… we are guaranteeing that costs for large consumers, for industries and businesses are lower than they were before and this path is certain to continue… we will not stop, we will accelerate climatic transition… we have already progressed in digital transition – and this has been a great year for start-ups”, registering an annual rate of growth in the capture of investment of 160%.
Mr Siza Vieira may not end up being Portugal’s minister of economy for much longer, Portugal could end up with a completely new government, but the “Come to Portugal” message will remain. Irrespective of ‘peace, safety, quality of life and freedom’ this country cannot survive without its visitors.
By Natasha Donn