Portugal ranks among most valuable nations of the world

Forget the current media focus on Portugal’s state of political limbo – commercially, things are getting better and better. The country basking in over 3000 hours of sunshine per year has hit “historic highs” in real estate sales this year, clearing a billion euros worth of business in just six months. That’s more than the total for the whole of 2014. Elsewhere, we have upped our ranking on the “100 most valuable nations of the world”; tourism is growing three times faster than the world average; cruise ships are coming and going at a dizzying pace and property price rises are increasing exponentially. From the commercial doldrums of the world’s financial crisis, Portugal is well and truly starting to fly.

Opening a new industrial complex run by Portucel in Cacia earlier this week, outgoing Economy Minister Pires de Lima affirmed Portugal is firmly on the path towards economic recovery.

The good news comes days after Eurostat revealed that house prices in Portugal are “rising faster than any other country in the eurozone”.

The real estate sector’s zeal has led to new franchises springing up throughout the country and the national association of estate agents affirming that transactions are up by around 20% this year.

Leading the throngs of potential buyers are Brits, Chinese and French – the latter leaving their home country in droves due to crippling new tax increases.

Portugal’s “non-habitual tax regime” is also being sold by overseas law firms, writes Expresso, all of whom are advising clients to move their fiscal residences to Portugal to save themselves thousands.

Portuguese lawyer João Luís Araújo explained the nation is winning hands down with its offer to non-habitual residents, because “it does not tax donations, does not have a wealth tax, has a great regime for exemptions and a good golden visa programme”.

Accounting firm Price Waterhouse Cooper has long been calling Portugal “Europe’s best kept secret” but suddenly the world seems to have found out.

Ratings agency Brand Finance has upped Portugal’s listing on the 100 most valuable nations of the world (we are now at position 50), and “more valuable” than countries like Luxembourg and Greece.

And before anyone scoffs at the value of Greece, remember Portugal’s relative size in comparison…

Indeed, as the country’s political ‘leaders’ battle it out over who takes Portugal forwards, the nation’s natural charm and beauty is doing much of the work itself.

This summer’s French online spoof “34 reasons never to go to Portugal” carried a selection of such beautiful photographs that no-one could be anything but proud to live in such a jewel of a country.

Tourism this year has grown three times faster than the average anywhere else, affirm property consultants Worx, quoting data from UNWTO, the world tourism organisation, which shows receipts grew by 12.3% in Portugal, against a European average of 2.7% and a world average of 4.3%.

Without being politically incorrect, the truth is that Portugal offers something that many sunshine destinations have lost: the feeling of safety.

Worx words it with “the good tourism numbers are backed by increasing interest very much influenced by the instability of countries competing with Portugal”.

At the same time, there is a “better balance between price/quality” and “all indications are that this will be an even better year, touristically, dethroning” the already excellent figures for 2014.

Meantime, new hotels are springing up all the time – with major investments, particularly in the Algarve, in the pipeline. So far this year, 26 new hotels have opened nationally – that’s eight more than in the whole of 2014 and well on the way to the total of 31 registered in 2013. In fact, Worx has been quoted as saying 31 new establishments are in the wings, so the year could end with a new record of 57 newly-inaugurated hotels.

And the good news keeps coming. With the world’s golfing fraternity focused now on the Portugal Masters playing out over the fairways of Vilamoura (see story on page 63), tourism boss João Cotrim de Figueiredo is delighting in the fact that Portugal’s cruiseship industry is on course to generate over €250 million this year – and set to increase to €375 million by 2020.

As Pires de Lima agreed, “cruiseship tourism is recovering. It has grown almost 10% compared to 2014 while we are investing in infrastructures like the new terminal in Santa Apolónia, and our expectations are that Lisbon should be receiving around 750,000 cruiseship tourists per year within five years. That would signify a 50% growth compared to 2014”.

Cruiseship tourists spend as much as €100 million a year, he added, while tourists as a whole to the country spend up to €28 million a day.

But even better is the numbers found to be returning, time after time, to this little country in a corner of Europe blessed by good weather and tucked away from many of the world’s problems.

As Pires de Lima said of cruiseship passengers bowled over by their entrance through the mouth of the Tejo to Lisbon port, “Portugal gains people for life”.

This country is on a roll. All it needs now is for “good sense to prevail” and we could all be sailing into a golden sunset.

By NATASHA DONN [email protected]

Photo: Economy minister António Pires de Lima (left) and Portugal’s tourism boss João Cotrim de Figueiredo aboard the cruiseship “Balmoral” docked at Santa Apolónia terminal in Lisbon this August