Unique tourism project in Barril

By Ana Tavares [email protected]

A consortium established between the Pedras Group, owner of the Pedras d’el Rei resort, and the University of the Algarve saw 12 graduates starting a one-year internship on September 16 at Barril beach, Tavira, in order to create new ventures and fight seasonality.

The 12 interns will have to develop ideas that will bring new life to the Praia do Barril beach concession as part of a larger concept, which aims to put Barril on the map for offering innovative tourism products and services targeted at senior and disabled citizens.

The man behind the project is António Almeida Pires, general manager of the Tavira-based resort Pedras d’el Rei, who invited the University of the Algarve to provide some academic backup as well as institutional credibility to the venture.

“We hope that this project will have a positive effect on the region’s tourism industry during the low season. Barril is in desperate need of regeneration, and so we are targeting our project at seniors who are a much more demanding market,” Almeida Pires told the Algarve Resident.

Whilst the interns will take a more hands-on approach, the two entities – alongside the Tavira-based Associação Raiz, Tavira City Hall, Almargem, the Portuguese Environment Agency and the Institute for the Conservation of Nature and Forest – will act as a background network, facilitating contacts with other entities, funding opportunities and providing their important know-how.

The first meetings regarding the Barril project began one year ago between Almeida Pires and the University of the Algarve, which is represented by cathedratic professor António Covas.

The first move was to start looking for interns in areas such as landscaping, management, marine biology and architecture – fields of expertise that could not only be applied at Barril to improve the area as a whole, but also to create small businesses that will be able to attract new tourists in the future, thus breaking the seasonality cycle.

Around 200 unemployed graduates from the University of the Algarve applied for the positions, leaving the project’s founders with the hard task of selecting just 12 applicants to embark on the venture.

The interns, who were selected with the help of the Portuguese Institute of Employment and Vocational Training (IEFP), will live at the Pedras d’el Rei development for free during the internship, as well as receive a monthly wage of around €700.

“This is a high-risk project as we are putting a lot of ambition into it without having the necessary resources,” admitted António Covas, adding that they are relying on the interns’ ability to come up with solutions.

Selected for their academic skills, as well as for their commitment and ability to “think outside the box”, the interns will work together to develop the tasks ahead. One of their first assignments will be to organise a photography exhibition for the project’s public launch, which will take place on October 5, using pictures that were donated to the Ria Formosa Natural Park by a German wildlife photographer.

The mid-term goals include the creation of a marine station, a museum – which will pay tribute to Barril’s former fishing glories – and the continued landscape rehabilitation by using indigenous species.

An array of activities, including workshops, seminars, lectures, artists’ residences and street markets, will also be held on a weekly basis.

Starting their own businesses

The plan is, say Pires and Covas, that by developing Barril, the young workers will be able to eventually establish their own businesses on the Tavira Island once the internship is over. The possibilities are endless, they add: the landscaping architect in charge of rehabilitating the area’s flora can establish an indigenous plant nursery, whilst interns who will be working to improve the concession’s accessibility – Almeida Pires even mentioned having restaurant menus in Braille – can implement a physiotherapy unit or use farming for therapeutic purposes by creating a plantation which will not only supply produce but will also be accessible to the disabled.

The same goes for another cause close to the promoters’ hearts – the Mediterranean Diet. A nutritional advice office in partnership with the University of the Algarve’s medical school is also in the pipeline, thus helping to attract the desired market – seniors – even further.

Although funding to help the interns establish their businesses will not be provided by the entities, António Covas said that they will help with accessing credit like microcredit, crowdfunding or loan protocols with banking institutions.

“If we succeed, I have no doubt that this project will be replicated in other regions of the country. We are all on the line here; if they fail, all the entities involved will have a part in their failure,” concluded the professor.

The setting

Behind its picturesque charm and scenic landscapes, the Barril beach in Tavira has an impressive history as one of the Algarve’s economic engines.

Until 1966, the beautiful stretch of sand was home to 80 families who worked at the Barril tuna fishery. ‘Downgraded’ to the status of beach concession in the last few years – in spite of the inviting restaurants and shops based there – this corner of the Tavira Island, which is known for its train line spanning 900m, is now on the verge of receiving a complete makeover and becoming a year-round tourist attraction.

Former vice-president of tourism board

“The Algarve is a weak brand”

With a wide experience in the tourism sector in the Algarve, António Almeida Pires was vice-president of the Algarve Tourism Board for six years. Speaking to the Algarve Resident about the region’s current economic situation, he says that there is still much that needs to be done in the region to attract tourists in order to differentiate it from its competitors.

“The Algarve seriously needs new tourism products. During my time at the tourism board, I fought inglorious battles to implement projects which I thought were structural for the region,” he said.

A firm believer in niche markets, which he describes not as small market segments but “as looking at the region’s assets and resources and transforming them into opportunities”, Almeida Pires says that the Algarve, with its sunny weather, friendly residents and good medical facilities, has all the necessary conditions to become a prime destination for the senior tourism market.

Other markets that could be developed, he believes, is the cycling tourism niche, which according to him attracts 400,000 tourists each year to the neighbouring Spanish island of Maiorca, and the accessible tourism market, which includes 50 million people in Europe alone and is worth €90 billion.

Nature tourism is also on his map: “Around 43% of the Algarve territory is a protected area or is included in a natural park. It is an area that needs to be promoted,” he said.

Adding that Algarve tourism relies heavily on low cost airlines, which is “a worrying, delicate and dangerous situation”, and that the region in itself is a “weak brand”, the former vice-president of the tourism board also blames the government for not implementing efficient monitoring actions against illegal local lodging (Alojamento Local). “Hotels and developments face unequal responsibilities, compared to those who just rent a bed, and no one seems to do anything about it,” he said.