Cliveas in plastic pots March (2).JPG

Tourism roller coaster

By INÊS LOPES – [email protected]

As the weakening Euro is seeing more British tourists heading to the Algarve, the region appears to have lost some of its appeal to the German market, which in the last decade has dropped by nearly 50% in favour of other “more competitive” holiday destinations.

Speaking to the Algarve Resident this week, Elidérico Viegas, President of the Algarve Hotels and Tourist Resorts Association (AHETA), confirmed that British holidaymakers were returning to the region, “not because of concerted strategies from our tourism agents” to lure them here, but because of the weak Euro against the Pound.

AHETA has also just released its figures for April which show that the number of Irish and Dutch visitors is up by 34.9% and 29.1% respectively.

However, with predictions pointing to a stagnant summer for the tourism industry, Elidérico Viegas says the austerity measures and economic situation of the country will force many domestic visitors to stay at home or take shorter breaks, a reality already verified last year when the number of Portuguese tourists in the Algarve was down by 7.7%.

The tolls, introduced in December last year, are much to blame for the drop in Spanish tourists this year, with 21% fewer visitors from our neighbouring country since January. If we consider that the Spanish market had actually registered an increase of 6.9% in 2011, there can be no doubt that the A22 tolls are having a disastrous effect on the region’s main industry and economy.

The AHETA president said: “The Algarve can only consolidate its position as a top holiday destination if it creates attractive conditions to welcome its visitors. Clearly the difficulties the tourism sector is facing, the tolls being the most significant example, are conflicting with regional and national interests.

“The government’s stubbornness over the tolls’ issue is costing tourism businesses, and the country, a lot of money in lost revenue.”

Another cause for concern is the dramatic decrease in German tourists in the Algarve in the last decade. “Holidaymakers from Germany are down by 48.9%,” said Elidérico Viegas. “However, if we go back 15 years, the situation is even more dramatic, with the German market down by a staggering 70%.” And the tourism leader fears the trend will continue as since January this year, the number of German visitors to the Algarve is down 11.5%.

But Germans continue to live up to their reputation as Europe’s most optimistic consumers when it comes to holidays. They represent the largest tourism market in Europe, with 59 million Germans holidaying abroad each year for periods longer than four days.

The Algarve share of this market represents a meagre 226,000 tourists, which corresponds to around 1.4 million overnight stays a year. “The resurgence of other, more competitive markets explains the reason why German tourists are heading to other destinations, such as Turkey, Egypt, Tunisia and countries from the former Yugoslavia,” said Elidérico Viegas. “We mustn’t forget though that these are traditional holiday destinations for the Germans, however due to the instability in the Balkans, tourists were advised to avoid those countries. With the end of hostilities, those countries are again attracting tourism activity.”

The AHETA president believes Portugal’s rising taxes, the lack of a competitive policy in relation to the air travel market, insufficient and inadequate marketing strategies, and entering the single currency have contributed to a worsening situation and a loss of competitiveness within the Algarve tourist sector.

He said: “This year the Algarve tourism industry can expect the same occupation levels as last year but with a reduced business volume (-4%).”

When asked if he agreed with Daniel do Adro, president of the Association of Algarve Hoteliers and Related Businesses (AIHSA), who said the Algarve “was out of fashion” in the face of other more competitive markets, Elidérico Viegas simply answered: “No comments.”

Despite this, Daniel do Adro was keen to point out that the Algarve offered “some of the most attractive prices in Europe”, particularly as far as five star hotels are concerned.

He told Lusa news agency: “It is a lot cheaper to come to the Algarve than it is to go to Spain. Some of the hotels here are offering such good deals that if they get any cheaper the hotels might as well close down.”

working hard to get back on track

It appears the Algarve tourism sector is not accepting the effects of undesirable “setbacks” imposed by a dwindling economy, government austerity measures and tax increases, and are tackling the problems head on by stepping up promotional campaigns in external markets, holding debates to discuss solutions for the hard hit industry and offering attractive deals to keep tourist numbers high. This week, a parliamentary committee on Economy and Public Works was in the Algarve for a two-day visit to meet with members of the Algarve Tourism Board, hoteliers and other tourism agents where the sector was debated as a “priority due to its economic potential”.

In a statement sent to the Algarve Resident, the Algarve Tourism Board said that some of the subjects discussed during the committee’s visit included the lack of an events programme, the evolution of the main tourism markets and promotional channels, the region’s tourism product, the possible creation of new air routes, the problem of seasonality, parallel accommodation and the introduction of tolls and the VAT tax hike to 23% in the restaurant and golf sectors.

While in the region, the parliamentary commission visited Faro airport, Portimão Port and the race track and met with mayors and tourism entrepreneurs. The visit came to a close with a session on health and nature tourism at the Longevity Wellness Resort in Monchique.

Meanwhile, the ‘VIR Destination Meets Online’ conference, attended by more than 200 German entrepreneurs, hoteliers and online operators, is taking place at the Hotel Algarve Casino in Portimão until Sunday.

The conference, organised by Verband Internet Reisevertrieb (VIR) and sponsored by the Algarve Tourism Board and the Portimão Tourism Association, is open to the general public and members of the press today from 8.30am. The Algarve as a holiday destination and the evolution of the German tourism market in the region are some of the subjects being discussed.

The VIR includes the world’s leading online travel companies based in Germany, such as Expedia, Just Travel, Last Minute, Holiday Check, eBookers, Opodo and Weg. 1″>news