This is the first of a two-part feature concerning Safe Communities Portugal’s “Safe Tourism 2018” campaign.
This week I will focus on raising the standards of safety and security in short-term rented accommodation known as ‘Alojamento Local’ (AL).
We are fortunate that, generally speaking, the Algarve has a comparatively low crime rate compared with many other holiday destinations in Europe.
Although occasionally there is a more serious crime that captures media attention, these are now much less so than around eight years ago. This is good news, but it does not mean that we should be complacent.
The aim of “Safe Tourism 2018” is to do everything to help maintain the Algarve as a safe destination and, if possible, reduce crime even further.
In 1996, some 22 years ago, the United Nations World Tourism Organisation made a very important statement and, in my view, is even more important now as we live in a somewhat troubled world. It states: “Safety and security are vital to providing quality in tourism. More than any other economic activity, the success or failure of a tourism destination depends on being able to provide a safe and secure environment for visitors.”
More recently, ABTA, the British travel trade association, conducted a survey which found that safety and security were the number one priority among holidaymakers.
Although many businesses in the travel industry have taken all the necessary steps to ensure this, it’s surprising that there are others where this appears to be of a lesser priority.
Meeting just the basic legal requirements is not satisfactory when it comes to the safety of tourists – more needs to be done to raise standards.
The “Safe Tourism 2018” campaign is being launched with the support of the Ministry of Internal Administration through a recently signed protocol.
One of the objectives is to foster greater collaboration with property rental and property management businesses in the role they can play in creating greater crime prevention and public safety awareness.
This starts with helping to raise the standard of advertising short-term rental accommodation, by taking steps to make it difficult for fraudsters to copy legitimate websites. One problem is that many sites use similar templates and styles of advertising, so it has become more difficult to determine those which are fake.
It is important for holidaymakers to carefully check websites that advertise short-term holiday rentals to ensure that they are legitimate. Check the basics: Can the contact details be validated? Are all the links and features on the site working? Do the photos look genuine?
Remember testimonies can easily be made up. Also pay particular attention to the URL address. Fraudsters often use the same name as a legitimate business, but with a small change such as replacing “.com” with “.com.pt”. Avoid paying through inter-bank transfer where possible as this is the method most commonly used by fraudsters.
A major step forward in ensuring advertisements are legitimate was the change in law by making it mandatory for all short-term rental adverts in Portugal to display the AL number for that property. Airbnb and Owners Direct have also adopted this measure.
This change was as a result of a suggestion made by Safe Communities Portugal to the Secretary of State for Tourism in 2015.
What can owners and property letting/management companies do?
With several hundred thousand people each year staying in short-term rented accommodation, it is vitally important that this industry provides the highest possible standards, not just in respect of the type of accommodation and management services, but also with regards to safety and security.
If the establishments have a capacity that is equal to or fewer than 10 users, they only have to comply with the following rules: (1) Have a fire extinguisher and a fire blanket accessible to users; (2) Have first-aid equipment accessible to users; (3) Indicate the national emergency number (112) in a place that is visible to users.
Compared to hotel accommodation, these safety and security features are, to say the least, basic and owners are encouraged to do more. In doing so, not only will this provide added protection for users, but will improve the accommodation’s rental potential.
We recommend going beyond the rudimentary basics in a number of important areas. This includes the provision of carbon monoxide and smoke alarms, a security alarm system, a built-in safe to store valuables and good-quality locks on external doors.
Information available to holidaymakers concerning safety and security is very important, not just providing the 112 emergency number but also promoting crime prevention measures. These should include: ensuring doors and windows are closed and locked when leaving the villa; setting off security alarm when available; the care of belongings around the swimming pool and the use of a safe if provided. In respect of the latter, we strongly recommend that all AL accommodation owners install safes.
For those rental properties in rural high fire-risk areas, it is important to ensure that tenants have a copy of the latest government information “Safe Villages – Safe People” which covers action to be taken should a fire approach the accommodation. This can be downloaded from the Rural Fire Prevention page on the Safe Communities Portugal website.
In order to ensure that the highest standards of safety and security are achieved, property letting/management companies need to work closely with owners.
By David Thomas
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David Thomas is a former Assistant Commissioner of the Hong Kong Police, consultant to INTERPOL and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. In October 2011 he founded Safe Communities Algarve an on-line platform www.safecommunitiesalgarve.com here in the Algarve to help the authorities and the community prevent crime. It is now registered as Associação SCP Safe Communities Portugal, the first national association of its type in Portugal, with a new website www.safecommunitiesportugal.com launched in May 2015. He can be contacted at [email protected], or on 913045093 or at www.facebook.com/scalgarve