CENTRAL TIME

Portugal 2019 | TOURISM | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Dr Pedro Machado, President of Turismo Centro de Portugal, on a unique tourism offering, and redefining Portugal in the international consciousness.

Tourism represents 12.5% of GDP. What does the Tourism Center of Portugal do?

Our strategy, whether from the point of view of the internal market, and in particular from that of the external one, is based on five main axes. First, we are a cross-selling destination between Lisbon and Porto, and we have world heritage sites and destinations that are highly differentiated when it comes to nature tourism. On the one hand, then, we have heritage and culture, but on the other, many activities related to surfing and water sports, not to mention a growing number of activities like cycling and walking, and religious tourism, in particular Jewish tourism. These five axes— culture, surfing, walking, cycling, and religious tourism—are what we're staking our strategy on for attracting new markets such as Brazil, Canada, the US, and Asia.

Over 20 million tourists now visit Portugal on an annual basis. How has this affected the country?

We calculated there were nearly 6.5 million overnight stays in 2017, with growth coming mainly from Brazil, the Netherlands, Poland, and, naturally, the internal market, which will continue in 2019. Key points that influenced this were the visit of the Pope in 2017, which brought around one million visitors, the centennial celebration of the apparitions of Fatima, and increasing awareness around water sports and surfing through social media. However, it is worth remembering that for Fatima some of the most important markets were South Korea, China, Vietnam, the Philippines, Thailand, Brazil, the US, Poland, and Israel.

How do you describe a typical guest who chooses the region instead of others?

Families with small children, especially those who like cycling, walking, surfing, and windsurfing, are increasingly choosing Portugal as their preferred destination. And in 2019 the center is hosting a world surfing championship that will only bring more.

How do you assess the furture of eco and rural tourism in Portugal?

The Center of Portugal has high levels of rural tourism, and we have several examples of sustainable and environmentally responsible tourism. There is an eco-hotel with sustainable facilities, whose pest control, for example, is done internally by frogs. Portugal has more than 70 river beaches with blue flags, one of which, Mira, is the oldest blue flag beach in Europe, and a significant number with golden flags, which refers not just to the quality of the beach, but also of the environment and water, many of which are in isolated rural areas.

What is a typical itinerary for a more high-end visitor?

The Center of Portugal is not characterized by the existence of large hotel chains, our core is 'small is beautiful' and related to small family units and intimate friendships. When we talk about Areias do Seixo Hotel, Casas do Cor Hotel, H2O Hotel, or Vista Alegre, these are places where the customer is greeted as a family member and where the owners perform or oversee all services. Brands such as Vuitton, Maserati, and Vogue have done catalogs at these hotels. Casa do Cor is a typical example. Situated in a village, Marialva, in the heart of the Serra da Estrela, there are 35 rooms whose check-in and kitchen services are performed by the daughters of the owner. Portugal's best bet for the medium to premium segments is in this segment of small units with high levels of service.

What are your goals for the coming year?

We are working on positioning ourselves as a sustainable and healthy destination with inclusive, sustainable facilities for all ages. We want to reinforce our attraction, and reinforce our activities related to Catholic and Jewish tourism, as has happened in Santiago de Compostela. We are working with partners such as Spain to coordinate actions aimed at distant markets. For example, we have already worked with them on a heritage appreciation strategy, and want to be seen more as the heart of Iberia and less as the Center of Portugal. Altogether, we are redefining our international approach.