SPOTLIGHT: PORTUGAL

Portugal 2019 | TOURISM | FOCUS: INTERNATIONAL FAIRS AND EVENTS

In his book Crowds and Power, Nobel Laureate Elias Canetti playfully observes that, “Flags are wind made visible,” a means for nations to mark the air around them as their own.

International expos and other contests staged before the world's cameras allow participant nations to spar for dominance, but are also importantly airing perspectives on common commercial and cultural issues. Portugal, already a hugely popular destination, has added to its visibility by flying the red and green over a roster of events that have brought specific industries and goals into sharp relief.

Web Summit

A perfect example of the sheer pace of change in the tech universe, Web Summit, now Europe's preeminent tech event, is the eight-year-old brainchild of Irish entrepreneur Paddy Cosgrave. From an initial 400 visionary participants in the first outing in Dublin, today's event hosts north of 60,000 from over 150 countries. Lisbon was the host nation in 2017. And now, a feather in Portugal's cap, it has signed an agreement to host the show for a full decade through to 2028 to seal Lisbon's status as a European technology hub. Lisbon had prevailed over 20 competing European cities.
According to the agreement, Portugal has committed to an annual payment of EUR11 million to Web Summit toward expanding the summit's reach to an ultimate target of 100,000 participants. Meanwhile, should Web Summit for any reason opt out of the deal before 2028, it would pay Portugal EUR3 billion. And for good reason. Portugal claims that Web Summit week rustles up EUR300 million for Lisbon's tourism sector. The deal moreover seals Portugal's visibility in a key economic sector; bear in mind here that a decade ago, ICT expenditure as a percentage of GDP in Portugal had reached 6% by World Bank numbers.

Expo's Lasting Consequence

Historically, a major seafaring nation—its very name meaning tranquil port—Portugal celebrated this legacy in Expo 98, a tailor-made World's Fair staged in Lisbon. Titled The Oceans, a Heritage for the Future, the nation basked in the half millennium of Portuguese oceanic discovery. More significantly, urban planners exploited the event to reclaim an exhausted industrial quarter of the city. The resulting Parque das Nações Lisbon—Park of Nations—is today a major tourist draw. As well as being a center for corporate endeavor and prestigious residential area, it serves as a modern foil to Lisbon's historic architecture. Depending on taste, the visitor may take in the wonders of the Oceanarium, watch their money float away at the Lisbon Casino, and enjoy a bird's eye view of their losses from a cable car.

Dix Points for Effort

Yes, it demands a mention. The Eurovision Song Contest has been pitting participating nations against one another in a battle of the larynx since 1956. And while the whole affair has developed a whiff of kitsch, millions still relish the spectacle. Not least the joy of politically motivated voting, arguably the best bit. Meanwhile, the ignominy of Nul Points has long become a meme. Having won the event in 2017, Portugal automatically came to host the 2018 outing in a first for the nation. The setting was the Lisbon Arena, and the late addition of Macedonia brought the participant count to 43 countries. This time Israel was to win its fourth contest with the song "Toy."

An Afterthought

Ultimately, the destinations of major international events are selected with the appeal of the location to attendees in mind. In September 2017, Portugal was for the first time named “European Best Destination” at the World Travel Awards in St. Petersburg. The event, since 1993 known as tourism's Oscars, is no small potatoes. Online voting is registered by the general public and over 200,000 tourism professionals from 160 countries. Upon winning, Mayor of Lisbon Fernando Medina, an economist by trade, observed that, “The recognition of Lisbon as the 'World's Leading City Break Destination' is the result of its growing prestige and investment in the valorization of its patrimony.” A rough translation of this is that in leveraging its capital assets, Portugal has successfully built on its excellent heritage. We told you he was an economist. ✖