Portugal seizes the opportunity

 In Opinion

Margarida Caldeira is Director and EMEA chair at Broadway Malyan

The world is discovering Portugal. Last year, the number of foreign visitors rose by 13%, making a major contribution to Portugal’s strongest economic performance for almost two decades.

The country’s beautiful Algarve coastline has long been a favourite destination for holidaymakers, but this is a boom that is being driven by more than just golfers and holidaymakers.

Families are still visiting the country in their hundreds of thousands, cities like Porto and Lisbon are some of Europe’s most popular destinations for ‘weekenders’, but, potentially most importantly, Portugal is increasingly being recognised as a viable business destination.

What is indisputable is that Portugal is currently going through a positive ­economic cycle and there seems to be some way to go before it reaches a peak. Economic cycles would seem to be an unfortunate fact of life and few would be brave or foolhardy enough to predict a future of permanent growth and prosperity.

However, Portugal’s opportunity in terms of realising its potential as the proverbial sun shines and future-proofing itself against economic peaks and troughs could not be greater.

After the global economic crisis, ­Portugal saw record levels of international investment across a range of ­sectors, with funds recognising the ­potential value of assets and leading to a boom in shopping centres and office buildings over the last few years.

Today that boom is in the hospitality sector.

Hospitality is a critical bellwether for an economy such as Portugal’s that is so reliant on the volume of visitors and there is no doubt this sector is reflecting how the country is changing.

We are seeing a wide range of investments in the sector, which now boasts a plethora of different products and ­services. We are not just seeing the repositioning of existing assets; we are also seeing new hotels and resorts being built. However, the approach to the ­current market has to be better thought-out than it was in the past. It has to be more nuanced, sophisticated and focused on what international customers are now demanding.

The hospitality industry in Portugal has never been so strong and it will continue to evolve. Whether it is a refurbishment or repositioning project, a new concept or resort, hotel operators understand there is a huge opportunity if the product is right.

In recent years, Broadway Malyan has been working with some of the biggest brands in the sector as well as Portuguese and international funds in creating the kinds of portfolios that can compete with the more recognised global destinations.

Such examples include three key projects for Minor Group, which entailed creating Avani Lisboa, the first Avani branded hotel in Europe, redesigning the iconic Tivoli Avenida Liberdade in the heart of Lisbon and Tivoli Carvoeiro, situated in a spectacular location in one of the most beautiful areas of the Algarve.

Other projects include repositioning the former Altis Olaias Hotel in Lisbon to a new Ramada Hotel and designing and delivering the new Moxy Hotel at the Expo site in Lisbon, Marriot’s new concept for the millennial generation.

Each hotel is seeking to attract a ­diverse audience and, as such, each ­design recognises the evolving aspirations of customers, their different needs and expectations and, ultimately, the need to create an experience that is world-class.

There has never been a one-size-fits-all approach to hospitality design but, as the range of visitors to Portugal becomes increasingly varied, so our approach as designers has taken on a far more international outlook, combining global trends with a distinctive Portuguese look and feel.

This boom in hospitality is a symptom of what I believe is a watershed ­moment for Portugal. In the past, ­Portugal has struggled to look beyond the traditional sun, sea and sand, but now aspects like the gastronomy and culture are moving to the fore.

I was in Bangkok for a business meeting last week and the executive I was with had just been on a trip to ­Portugal and talked about how wonderful it was. He loved the food and the wine – it used to be all about French wine, but he was completely taken by what the Portuguese had to offer. Portugal has always produced fantastic wines, but now people are sitting up and really taking notice.

Of course, all these factors are important but are not the reason corporations such as Google are now investing heavily in the country. Prices in Portugal remain affordable and there is a large untapped pool of fantastic talent. Ultimately, it is these fundamentals that will underpin long-term economic success.

On the one hand, we have to be ­realistic – Lisbon is becoming an ­increasingly important European commercial centre but, due to its size, it will never compete with cities like London and Paris.

On the other hand, small is beautiful and in Lisbon’s case less is much more.

What Lisbon and Portugal have to offer that few other cities and countries can is an affordable quality of life. It is the sum of all the parts I have previously described combined with that intangible factor that offers something completely unique. That is why I have no doubt more and more people will be discovering Portugal in the future.