RTA brings out the big guns

In a major change of strategy, the Algarve tourism board (RTA) has rejected around 2,500 requests for funding from organisations across the region and will spend next year’s budget on staging its own major, high profile events.

A spokesman from the RTA confirmed that the board is setting its sights on sports stars such as Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe and Luís Figo playing a part in the region’s 2005 events programme. The 2005 plan features the return of the Cross das Amendoeiras cross-country race, the very first Algarve Half-Marathon, and an, as yet unconfirmed, international music concert.

The RTA has a budget of 8.1 million euros for 2005, which will be divided between three categories: Algarve Digital – a project to modernise and install new technology in the Algarve’s tourist information points – promoting the Algarve within Portugal, together with the Algarve Tourism Association (ATA) and organising high impact events.

In addition to these projects, an extra five million euros has already been committed to the ‘Clean the Algarve’s Beaches’ project – the same figure as in 2004.

The President of RTA, Hélder Martins, admits that his new strategy could have a detrimental effect on many smaller initiatives and the programmes of minor local organisations, but he remains adamant that this is the only way forward. “In the past we were responding to around2,500 requests for financial support, but we must now focus our investment essentially on major events,” he said.

Stars could return

One of the major events marked in the new calendar is the Meia-Maratona do Algarve half marathon, which is due to take place on April 10 in Vilamoura. “Four or five athletes from several different target market countries will be invited to take part,” said Martins. In principle, those countries invited to compete will include Scandinavian countries, Holland, France, Spain and England and Martins is already negotiating to bring Briton, Paula Radcliffe, back to the Algarve following her recent triumph in the New York Marathon.

As well as the competitive half-marathon race, two other separate routes will be set up for walkers and children. The RTA is so confident of this event’s popularity that it has already set up an agreement for the event to take place for the next three years, and is actively seeking sponsors.

The RTA president also highlighted the popular Volta ao Algarve em Bicicleta cycling tour, and expressed his hope that legendary cyclist Lance Armstrong will return to compete.

Another major boost for the region will be the return of Luís Figo’s ‘All Stars’ football event for charity in 2005. This year’s event, which was held at the Algarve Stadium, attracted celebrities such as Sir Bobby Charlton, Michael Schumacher and Paul Gascoigne, amongst others. Another event rumoured to be planned for the stadium is a major international music concert, although Martins wasn’t able to give any specific details.

Cross das Amendoeiras

The Cross das Amendoeiras run will also return to the region following a one year hiatus and will take place on January 31 in Albufeira. It will be the 28th time the event has been held and it is being made possible thanks to a partnership between the Algarve Athletics Association (AAA), Albufeira Câmara and various private companies. However, although the RTA will be supporting the event, Hélder Martins underlined the fact that he does not believe it really promotes the Algarve. He also emphasized the fact that although the RTA played a part in the financial backing of the event over its 28 year history, it was never responsible for the organisation or ownership of the event.

Other key events featured in the calendar for next year include a Harley Davidson motorbike meeting and a veterans’ athletics championship, both due to take place in Vila Real de Santo António. There will also be a European Aerobics Camp and, at the same time, a European Fitness Convention, which is expected to attract more than 2,500 competitors. Portimão will once more stage the Motonáutica de Portimão Formula One boat show and various horse riding events. Finally, the Golf All Stars event, which took place recently, will return to the Algarve again next year.

Protecting the product

The RTA also announced its intention to launch a campaign to alert the people of the Algarve to the importance of protecting the region’s tourism product. Martins confirmed that the campaign will run for two years and will involve many entities and institutions, public associations and schools.

Promotion and technology

As well as ordering a brand new stand for the BTL, the country’s major annual tourism fair, which will also be used at three important regional tourism events, the Algarve is to be showcased via a new website called www.visitalgarve.pt. The site, to be launched at BTL, will also have subsections for the ATA, Turismo Rural and the initiative ‘Rota dos Vinhos’ (wine routes). In partnership with AHETA, the Algarve’s Hotel and Tourist Resort Association, the site will also allow users direct access to accommodation information, and it will be possible to make bookings on-line.

New tourism points

It was also announced that the renovation and creation of new tourist information points is one of the priorities for 2005. Offices at Aljezur, Monchique, Castro Marim and Alcoutim will all be newly constructed or refurbished. Praia da Rocha’s tourist point is to be renovated and will be operational within Fortaleza de Santa Catarina.

Secretary of State applauds initiatives

The Secretary of State for Tourism, Carlos Martins, said he was delighted with the initiatives presented and applauded the strategies devised by the Tourism Board. According to the politician: “The RTA should not, and must not, disperse its funds across a large array of events and activities, it must select those which are most strategically important for the region in order to succeed over its competitors.”