Portugal has used the Covid-19 pandemic as an opportunity to accelerate a plan to restructure its tourism industry.
Speaking at the Resort and Residential Hospitality Forum in Portugal, the country’s secretary of state for tourism Rita Marques said the plan to improve the Portuguese travel industry dates back to 2017.
In a session entitled Supporting Recovery: The Role of Governments, she said the plan had three strands, with the first being to ensure Portugal is seen as a year-round destination and so break the spikes in seasonality.
Marques added the second task was to lure tourists away from Portugal’s most popular destination, the Algarve, to less well-known parts of the country, while the final part was to continue investment in value-added services in a bid to drive tourism revenues.
She said: “The mindset is it is not really about the number of guests we welcome, it is much more about the receipts they give us.”
Marques added in 2017 Portugal generated €27 billion in receipts and the target is to get back to that as quickly as possible.
She said that visitor numbers in 2021 have been half of the pre-pandemic 2019 levels, although she said she was confident that these numbers would be achieved within the next year and a half, especially since the country only reopened to travellers in June this year.
And Marques added that as visitors return, so online marketing is driving them to visit less well-known, and less crowded, parts of the country with the river Douro region now proving popular with both Americans and Canadians.
Meanwhile, a stronger focus on travellers from Asian countries such as China, Japan and Korea is helping fix the seasonality issues as they tend to travel in greater numbers outside of Europe’s peak summer season.
In particular, she is hoping for strong growth from Chinese tourists, whose numbers saw a double-digit increase in 2019 and remain a key market.
However, even with such a big potential market, Marques said the key strategy remains to attract higher-spending travellers, adding: “If we talk about the future we have to foster better tourism instead of more tourists.”
She added the pandemic also proved beneficial in attracting travellers from countries that don’t typically choose the destination, including parts of central Europe, France, Italy and even Spain.
Marques said during lockdown itself the most important thing to do was keep the lines of communication open with the private sector in order to best understand what help was needed and when.
“Our main priority was to preserve jobs and maintain the capacity of the sector because we knew when demand was popping up, we wanted to be ready,” Marques said.
She added the key problem for the private hospitality sector during the pandemic was liquidity as tourism businesses watched their revenue streams collapse overnight.
However, she argued the length of the pandemic has also caused issues, adding: “At the beginning we were not hoping to have a 20-month pandemic, we hoped it would be shorter.”
Now, as countries open up their borders as vaccination programmes take effect Marques said the public and private sectors will continue to work together to ensure the right hotels are built in the right places.
She added: “We need to foster more investment but more important than the quantity is the quality – we want people who want to do the best.”