On paper, 2014 is a great year for tourism in Portugal. We have just won 16 World Travel Awards – out of a field of 40 – doubling last year’s success.
The news comes in the same year Lisbon was voted “one of the nine best European cities to visit with friends”, the Algarve was crowned Europe’s Best Golf Destination and Portugal has been featured on the cover of National Geographic Traveler. With the President of the Republic and the Prime Minister holidaying in the Algarve and even Conservative Party leader and UK PM David Cameron relaxing with his family in Cascais, how good can it get? The answer is ‘read-between-the-lines’. Beyond the awards, and all the PR razzmatazz, things are not quite as good as they look.
Hotels for instance have registered a dip in bookings this summer – both for June and July.
The numbers of visiting Dutch and Germans are down, as are the number of Portuguese taking their holidays in the Algarve.
And while we’re talking about the south, villa booking scams are back in the news – causing tourism bosses to caution all those organising their holidays over the internet.
Meantime, the pilot strike called for national airline TAP on Saturday has prompted heavy criticism from harassed hotel and restaurant bosses. Their national association AHRESP claims TAP is compromising the higher interests of the country.
TAP wins ‘Oscar’ for best airline to Africa and Southern America
TAP’s organisational woes were not in evidence when World Travel Awards considered the airline’s expansion plans on paper. Brazilian boss Fernando Pinto has made an excellent job of talking about taking the airline into the future – the problem is that it is a task much easier said than done.
As we went to press this week, the ‘Oscar’ for best airline to Africa and Southern America was the last thing on pilots’ minds.
Organisational chaos has seen TAP cancel hundreds of flights in the last few weeks, while unions are also alleging drastic cuts when it comes to maintenance. The kind of cuts that they claim compromise the airline’s glowing record of safety – never mind the higher interests of the country.
Added to these concerns has come the spread of the Ebola virus in Western Africa. All in all, it has definitely not been the time to expand airline services from Africa to Europe.
Oscars under the microscope
Described as “the most comprehensive, the biggest and the most prestigious awards programme in the travel industry worldwide”, World Travel Awards are voted on by “travel professionals and high-end tourism consumers”.
Last year, Portugal was thrilled with its nine awards. This year’s 16 are seen as a “new national record”.
Lisbon won recognition as a cruise ship destination and port; Madeira once again took the spotlight for ‘best holiday island’, while Douro Azul was awarded for being the best river cruise line.
Tourism bosses nationally got a well-earned boost as they were nominated as Europe’s best official tourism organisation – while in the Algarve, a number of resorts, residences and hotels received accolades (see list).
Clearly delighted by the results, Economy Minister António Pires de Lima declared tourism to be “a sector that is the great champion of our economy”.
In a communiqué marking the European awards ceremony in Greece last weekend, he said “thanks to the dynamism of the private sector, in masterful articulation with the public sector, it is giving a truly inestimable contribution to the economic recovery of Portugal”.
Villa scams blight the Algarve
But it is not all rose-tinted in the Algarve. According to national tabloid Correio da Manhã, the GNR has received a record number of complaints from would-be holidaymakers allegedly swindled as they try to book villas and apartments over the internet.
According to CM, as many as eight complaints came in in one day. They involved locations all over the centre of the region: Portimão, Albufeira, Vilamoura, even Olhão.
The news follows an alert sounded last month by criminal investigators DCIAP over the “existence of frauds with holiday homes on the net”.
The scams are simple: properties are advertised on sites like olx.pt, interested people are encouraged to pay deposits and then … silence. The deposit has gone, along with the property’s advertiser – and the booking is never confirmed.
Elidérico Viegas, the president of AHETA, the Algarve resorts and hotels association, told CM that people must take “special care” when renting holiday homes over the net.
Algarve tourism boss, Desidério Silva, added that people should not be taken in by ‘good deals’, offering below-the-usual prices.
The scam highlights the perils of the net, he explained – and indeed the need to clear-up the “unauthorised” rentals sector.
“Personal contact with whoever is renting is important,” he stressed.
Hotel bookings down in the Algarve, but October “looking good”
Both Viegas and Silva attempted to shine a positive light on figures due out this week that show hotel bookings dipped during June and July.
“It’s too soon to talk,” Silva commented. “The annual average is still looking good and we have good indicators for October. We need to wait and see.”
Viegas however blamed unsettled weather for the dip. “People see the forecasts and, at the last minute, decide not to come or to stay less days.”
This is another part of the problem: in June this year, tourists stayed an average of five nights in the Algarve – a slight drop in the percentage for the year before.
Less Portuguese in a market dominated by Brits
AHETA data shows that the number of Portuguese holidaymakers coming to the Algarve this year also dipped in June, by 1.2% on figures for the same period in 2013.
Similarly, figures for Dutch and German visitors were also reduced, while June registered an increase in the number of British holidaymakers – albeit only in certain areas.
Praia da Luz, for instance, reported a dismal June, with almost no “first time holidaymakers at all”. Local businesses put this down to the media circus following the Metropolitan Police as it mounted an apparently fruitless search for clues into the disappearance of Madeleine McCann.
|| Portugal’s World Travel Awards Winners 2014
Europe’s Leading Airline to Africa – TAP Portugal
Europe’s Leading Airline to South America – TAP Portugal
Europe’s Leading All Inclusive Resort – Pestana Porto Santo Beach Resort & Spa, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Boutique Hotel – Vila Joya, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Boutique Resort – Choupana Hills Resort & Spa, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Cruise Destination – Lisbon, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Cruise Port – Porto de Lisboa, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Design Hotel – The Vine Hotel, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Hotel Residences – Pine Cliffs Residence, Albufeira, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Island Destination – Madeira Islands
Europe’s Leading Landmark Hotel – Bairro Alto Hotel, Portugal
Europe’s Leading Luxury Resort – Conrad Algarve, Portugal
Europe’s Leading River Cruise Company – DouroAzul
Europe’s Leading Tourist Board – Turismo de Portugal
Europe’s Leading Villa Resort – Martinhal Beach Resort & Hotel, Portugal
Europe’s Most Romantic Resort – Vila Vita Parc, Portugal
Portugal’s Leading Boutique Hotel – Terra Nostra Garden Hotel
Portugal’s Leading Business Hotel – Corinthia Hotel Lisbon
Portugal’s Leading Conference Hotel – Pousada de Cascais Cidadela Historic Hotel & Art District
Portugal’s Leading Family Resort – Sheraton Algarve at Pine Cliffs Resort
Portugal’s Leading Hotel – Bairro Alto Hotel
Portugal’s Leading Hotel Residences – EPIC SANA Algarve Hotel
Portugal’s Leading Hotel Suite – Presidential Suite @ Myriad by SANA Hotels
Portugal’s Leading Resort – Hotel Quinta do Lago
Portugal’s Leading Serviced Apartments – Altis Suites
Portugal’s Leading Spa Resort – Blue&Green Vilalara Thalassa Resort
By NATASHA DONN [email protected]