Tourism strangled by red tape

Vila Real de Santo António’s chance of becoming a major tourist attraction is being hampered by an ineffective bureaucratic system, says câmara president António Murta. He was commenting on the problems that the shared management of coastal zones is causing the town. Paulo Pereira, who works for the president, explained that the national Port Authorities, who are responsible for the town’s esplanade, “are delaying the area’s development for no discernible reason”.

Right on the border of Spain and surrounded by national parkland, Vila Real is beautifully unspoilt. It has the potential to attract far more tourists than it does, but, according to Pereira, until the Port Authorities recognise that their lack of interest is undermining the area, nothing can be done. “Around 600,000 people cross the Guadiana River every year and we need better facilities for all these people,” he explains.

The area stretching along the Vila Real de Santo António seafront is littered with rubbish, derelict buildings and old, disused boats; its general appearance is one of complete neglect. But the câmara is helpless – it does not control the area, so its hands are tied. “The orchestrated development of coastal zones is only possible through shared responsibility,” says António Murta. “The current scenario, in which each body works for their own side only, cannot continue, because every day we are losing opportunities and failing to create jobs and generate wealth for our concelho.” Murta is very critical of the current management controlling the public area, commenting: “It seems that institutes and delegations prefer to have jurisdiction over degraded areas, rather than receive revenue for projects that could be developed jointly.”

Lack of facilities

According to Renato José Rodrigues D’Oliveira, a businessman in the Vila Real de Santo António area, local business opportunities are also adversely affected by the current management system. Renato runs tourists boat trips up the Guadiana River and explains that, in order to actually get his customers on his boat, he has to put them in jeeps and drive them along a bumpy unfinished dirt track, because there is no access road to the docking area. “There are also no public toilets on the river front where my boat docks,” he explains, “so nobody can relieve themselves before the last leg of my trip which ends near Odeleite, some distance from Vila Real.” Renato has made incessant complaints to the authorities, especially as two of Renato’s members of staff have been injured in the hazardous buildings round the port. But despite pressure from the câmara and local residents, the Port Authorities are still apparently refusing to rectify the situation.

Paulo Pereira hopes that a solution will soon be found because he feels the area has huge potential and could be greatly improved. He explains that there are two possible options, either the Port Authorities lease the land to the câmara or to a private company. “Either way, they need to sort out this land because it is sitting there going to waste.”