How important is tourism as a strategic activity for the Portuguese economy?
Tourism has been making a contribution to the economy in several ways. At present, it represents 12.5% of GDP, more than 50% of service exports, and almost 20% of goods and services exports. In 2017, we registered growth of 9% in terms of arrivals, breaking the 20-million mark, and saw a 19.5% increase in revenue of the 15% in 2016. Tourism is certainly expanding, and we see that expansion especially during low season and to more undiscovered regions such as Algarve and Madeira. The highest growth rates were recorded in the regions of Alentejo, the central zone of Portugal, and the Azores. The future is challenging; however, the sector looks extremely promising at the moment. Many Portuguese companies are investing in tourism and diversifying their activities; in addition, many external agents see Portugal as a country with an attractive tourism sector.
What are some of the institutional capacity-building mechanisms to promote the industry?
We follow specific values within our organization and employ about 600 people. We support the private sector by funding projects and providing training with a country network of 12 educational institutions, from which around 3,000 students graduate every year. The unemployment rate in Portugal is less than 8%, as tourism created 55,000 jobs in 2017 alone. We also have a department that advises investors in Portugal and takes care of all tourism-related statistics. We work closely with all regions, city councils, and trade associations to help them develop their products, either by investing in specific marketing actions or by working directly with them to attract tour operators, travel agents, or newspapers.
How do you allocate your budget to prioritize areas that bring the most benefit and do you work closely with regional tourism promotional entities?
We are one of the main players funding tourism promotion, and we work with them especially in three areas. The first has to do with accessibility, so that tour operators, travel agents, and airlines get to know our infrastructure. The second has to do with international marketing with actions such as familiarization and press trips. For example, in 2017 there were around 33,000 international news articles on Portugal. The third has to do with structuring the product, which is a basic part of a destination-selling strategy. Our focus is to develop joint strategies of branding through international fairs, workshops, and roadshows in the 21 tourism outbound markets where we have representatives.
What have been some of the crucial differentiating factors behind Portugal's record tourism arrival numbers in 2017 and 2018?
There is a set of factors, and the first has to do with connectivity. The investment that has been made in terms of attracting airlines and tour operators and promoting the country as a whole is delivering results. The second has to do with positioning Portugal. In this regard, the attraction of large events has been extremely effective. For example, we will host the Eurovision Song Contest in Lisbon, with 40,000 people, and the third annual edition of Web Summit, with 70,000 visitors. We will also have 60,000 people from all over the world gathering in Lisbon for the Aga Khan Foundation as it moves its office to Portugal. In 2017, we supported around 66 conferences and congresses focused on diverse fields. Portugal is already on the top 10 International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA) event organizers in the world.
What would be your final personal message to encourage people to come and discover Portugal?
You cannot skip Portugal. We do not only say this because of the landscapes, gastronomy, and beautiful heritage buildings and UNESCO sites. Visiting Portugal is a 360-degree experience. There are things that set us apart from other countries. We are the third-safest country in the world and have the second-best road network in Europe.