“Tourism is a reliable industry, and as a matter of fact, activity is back to the level of 2019 and the numbers from January to August 2022 confirm a strong recovery.”
Luís Araújo, President of the National Tourism Board of Portugal and the European Travel Commission (ETC), talks to TBY about the recovery of the tourism industry in Portugal, and priorities for the year to come.
Which indicators best demonstrate the recovery of Portugal’s tourism industry?
Luís Araújo: Tourism is a reliable industry, and as a matter of fact, activity is back to the level of 2019 and the numbers from January to August 2022 confirm a strong recovery. Demand increased immensely during the summer season: The tourist accommodation sector registered 3 million guests and 9.9 million overnight stays in August 2022, corresponding to YoY increases of 33.0% and 31.9%, respectively. Tourism receipts registered EUR3.538 billion in the same month, an increase of 71%. We also managed to attract EUR21 billion in revenue. If we compare this with EUR18.4 billion back in 2009, we proudly declare that—so far—2022 is the best year on record. What we are seeing is major growth in regions that are not traditional tourism destinations, like the Douro Valley, Alentejo, the Azores, and the central regions of Portugal.
“Tourism Strategy 2027” is the strategic guideline for the development of tourism in Portugal: can you elaborate on its main targets and what specific actions will be implemented to achieve them?
Luís Araújo: The strategy was defined in 2017 and continues to 2027. It has served as an excellent strategy, even during the pandemic, revealing a roadmap for growth leading up to 2027. Tourism Strategy 2027 has established priorities based on five strategic pillars and has sustainability built into it. We want to add value to the territory, using historical-cultural assets and preserving their authenticity; we will be focusing both on urban regeneration and economic protection of natural and rural heritage, affirming the importance of tourism with regard to the economy of the sea, and the structuring of tourism offerings. Moreover, the strategy will further attract FDI, enabling the circular economy, entrepreneurship and innovation within the sector. We want to promote Portugal as a leading smart destination; the strategy renders Portugal a “destination for all.” Towards realizing this we are working to generate networks and boosting connectivity with additional flight routes throughout the year, and increasing territorial mobility. We also importantly focus on the environmental and social aspects of tourism. By 2027, we intend for 90% of our enterprises to have efficiency measures in waste management, energy, and water. We have launched a program to accelerate the environmental transition of our enterprises by 2023. And we also have a larger plan in action called Reactivating Tourism with EUR6 billion for promotion and training, so that enterprises adjust their offer. So, the 2027 strategy remains our roadmap, but we have complemented it with the sustainability plan for 2023 and the Reactivate Tourism for 2027 initiatives. On the social side, we want to reach the lowest seasonality ratio ever (34%), improve the qualifications of the sector workforce. Hotels and restaurants employed 266,600 people in 1Q2022, 45,200 more than in the same period of last year, but 33,200 less than in the first three months of 2019. We want to continue improving on these numbers. Today, 55% of employees have basic training, so nine years of education; we want 90% of the population in large urban areas to be satisfied with touristic activity. These are some of the goals that we have for the 2027 strategy. During the pandemic we realized we needed to accelerate our efforts, as we have lost so much time in those two years.
How is Portugal working to expand and upgrade its existing infrastructure, facilitating the travelers’ experience and ensuring convenient access to a diversity of destination?
Luís Araújo: Connectivity, especially air connectivity, is fundamental as approximately 90% of visitors arrive by plane. The constant investments in our airports are, therefore, vital to sustaining this connectivity. For example, we are seeing significant interest from our traditional markets within Europe, but also from the US, which will be our fifth-biggest market in 2022, up from sixth in 2021, with 20% growth in overnight stays, and 40% in revenues compared with 2019. The US, Canada, and the rest of the Northern American continent is crucial to us. Asia and the Middle East are also important, but there is a question of how we can strengthen connectivity with those parts of the world. We are also focused on boosting internal connectivity: the announcement of the high-speed line linking Lisbon and Porto is set to help tourists discover more of Portugal as a whole. This is great news as we want to ensure quicker, more sustainable forms of domestic transportation. We hope to see this connectivity within the next few years. Meanwhile, to showcase lesser-known destinations, we are focused not just on promoting them, but on specific niche segments; that’s why we are focused on literary and cultural tourism on architecture, and wine tourism. We have much more to sell and more products to help promote the country. To this end, we are placing much emphasis and value on the concept of authenticity.
UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism was held in Alentejo last year: what role does Wine Tourism play within the National Plan for Tourism?
Luís Araújo: This is a very interesting and crucial segment, full of opportunities; during the UNWTO Global Conference on Wine Tourism, held last year in Alentejo, UNWTO Secretary-General, Zurab Pololikashvili highlighted the potential of this niche sector and the role that it plays in advancing rural development. Wine tourism, with its connection to the territory, local products and traditions opens new opportunities to create employment and inclusiveness in rural areas. At a European level—and Portugal has the potential to lead this market—in consequence of the pandemic, wine tourism is witnessing rising demand. As a matter of fact, tourists and visitors are looking for more open-air authentic experiences, especially in rural areas. The conference in Portugal stressed the importance of fostering the entire tourism value chain, integrating activities at the wineries with the objective of to creating more jobs and cultivating businesses, while promoting local products and offering visitors a unique experience.
What are your priorities for the year to come?
Luís Araújo: Digital transition is clearly a goal for any destination; however, it has to go beyond communication and sales alone; it must improve the efficiency of our enterprises, improve sustainability. And then there are the people themselves, especially our workers, our key priority. After the challenging years of the pandemic, the sector lost many workers in Portugal. As for other industries, we have to boost our activity in order to attract people back to the industry, and earn their loyalty; it has to do with the strong support of qualifications and human resources. Our digital academy has over 180,000 people enrolled, and we are focused on a diversity of projects that support the development of skilled labor within in the industry so that it can keep tourism running.