By SHEENA RAWCLIFFE – [email protected]
On Tuesday, Dra Cecília Meireles, Secretary of State for Tourism, visited the Algarve and was the speaker at a lunch organised by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce.
The theme of Dra Cecília’s talk was Algarve: More than just Sun and Sea. She started by confirming that whilst Portugal remains an important and successful tourism destination, Portugal, the brand, does not rate as highly as it should. “There is much work to be done to improve the image of Portugal in other countries”, she said.
For many attending the event, Dra Cecília’s response to questions and her comments in general brought nothing new to the table. The Algarve is suffering – we all know that, but we had hoped that the Secretary of State would bring a strategic plan, as well as energy and enthusiasm to breathe life into the Algarve’s biggest industry – tourism.
Several attendees at the lunch, held at the Hilton Vilamoura, addressed their concerns to Dra Cecília. These included increases in IVA, other taxation issues, the tolls on the A22 and the austerity measures currently in place. Gerry Fagan of the Oceânico Group commented that Spain and Ireland had taken U-turns on their taxation policies with regard to touristic activities, Chitra Stern, owner of Martinhal spoke of the difficulties attracting visitors to the west, along with the hope that the government would fund more incentives to airlines enabling an increase to the number of flights coming to the Algarve in the off-season. Helena Baiao from Golfino asserted the need to maintain high standards and good quality, even if this means a reduction in profit, whilst Helder Martins, a director of the planned Quinta da Ombria Golf Resort near Loulé and a previous president of the ERTA, asked the very pertinent question: how can the Algarve market itself when the Tourist Board has no funds for any marketing activities?
Dra Cecília had nothing to offer in the way of hope for changes in taxation rates, including IVA. She said that the government did not want to see Portugal and its people go through the awful times experienced by other countries and go into bankruptcy.
“Whilst I am here talking about tourism, I am also part of the government. The government had two options; to allow the country to go into bankruptcy or to implement austerity measures”, she said.
With regard to the toll situation, which has taken up many pages of the Algarve Resident over the past year, Dra Cecília seemed unable to satisfy the concerns of those at the meeting. She said that not enough had been done to ensure that people knew how to pay for their tolls and that they were encouraging the car hire companies to take on responsibility. Too little, too late one attendee was heard to say.
The Secretary of State said that there are many opportunities in the Algarve, not currently being developed, which should encourage out-of-season tourism. Although many ideas were mooted from those attending the lunch debate, regrettably the meeting was not advised of any strategy from the government or tourist boards to implement tourism growth in such areas. Indeed, after the main business of the meeting was closed, Mark Rawcliffe, Commercial Director of the Algarve Resident, pointed out to Dra Cecília that the Algarve Autodrome should be a focus of all year round tourism. She commented that this had not even been considered.
It is difficult to make a good decision when you are in a bad place, but with tourism being the largest industry in the Algarve, government and tourist board strategies need to be put into place now, not later, to maintain Portugal’s position in tourism and to increase the number of out-of-season visitors.
The Secretary of State was thanked for answering the questions put to her honestly. She replied “It seems that honesty and politics are not incompatible after all. We need to focus on the good things which we have, to get through these difficult times. We have very good things”.
The Algarve Resident believes that the execution of the toll payment system is an indictment of poor strategy, poor planning and extremely poor response to an unacceptable situation, which will colour the view of many visiting the Algarve for a holiday. Alternative roads, particularly the EN125, are already in a poor state despite a plan to bring them up to standard and, even before we get to the main holiday months, are clogged up. We are of course aware that as much money as possible needs to be collected for the government coffers – but at what cost? It will be interesting to see how much has been collected from tolls compared to the amount budgeted for.
Killing the goose that laid the golden egg, through the increase of IVA on rounds of golf, is just one action taken by a government, which chooses not to understand the economy in the Algarve. This swingeing imposition has added to the non-competitiveness of the Algarve when compared with other similar destinations.
So what chance does the Algarve Come and Live Here project stand? The competitive edge, which Portugal – and specifically the Algarve had – has gone. Why should people choose the Algarve over other destinations?
We are not holding our breath for news on new strategies to develop greater tourism, but your views are important – tell us what you think. Email the Editor at [email protected] with your views.