By RUTH SHARPE
PRAIA DA Luz is not a place that often hits the Portuguese headlines. In the past 12 months, the biggest news to come from the small former fishing village is a minor arson attack and a late night mugging.
There’s no doubt that the disappearance of Madeleine McCann and the intense media scrutiny that has followed has changed the face of Praia da Luz for the foreseeable future, but should the local community be worried about the detrimental impact it will have on their village?
Although the safe return of Madeleine is at the forefront of everybody’s concern, after this case is concluded, the possible repercussions are on the minds of Portuguese and foreign residents. The community is dependent upon tourism and as one resident put it, “if Praia da Luz is no longer considered a safe tourist destination then it could spell the end for many local businesses”.
So far it seems this is not cause for concern as few holiday operators have reported a decline in bookings. Mark Warner has refused to reveal specific figures relating to bookings but have confirmed only four cancellations with some deciding to visit resorts in other countries.
UK Tour Operator, Thomson, has confirmed a small fall in reservations for the south of Portugal. “We have experienced a small decline in sales, a little more than expected but it is difficult to predict how things will develop,” said their spokesman. Despite this, “sales continue to be healthy and we are satisfied”, he said.
EHS Travel has not received any cancellations but has dealt with several calls from tourists requesting clarification about security levels in the area. Most people are concerned about being too close to the media presence that has been stationed next to the apartment where Madeleine disappeared on May 3.
Mary Popoff, the president of the Association of Tour Operators to Portugal (ATOP), is confident that the case “is not going to affect tourism or alter the image of the Algarve. Unfortunately, this kind of situation could happen anywhere in the world”.
President of Lagos Câmara, Júlio Barroso believes Lagos is “one of the safest regions in the world. That’s why so many people come here. Half of the residents in Praia da Luz are British,” he said.
Praia da Luz only has a population of 1,000, many of which run commercial outlets such as pubs, restaurants and shops and although some have felt a change in their business over the past few weeks, it appears that few have lost out significantly.
The overall result of Madeleine’s disappearance on these local businesses seems to be that places where you go to enjoy yourself, such as nightclubs, bars and shops, have seen a decrease in their revenue over the past three weeks.
One shop worker summed up the general consensus saying, “at this stage, the only important thing is finding Madeleine safe and alive. Whether or not we are making money is irrelevant. This is a strong community with a fantastic reputation in terms of tourism. We are confident that even though this season will be much quieter, Praia da Luz will always be a highly sought after and safe destination.”
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