Essential Business

Maintaining authenticity and understanding and integrating the past will determine the sustainable future of tourism in Portugal says tourism expert

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Portugal’s booming popularity on the international tourism scene provides “countless opportunities and enormous challenges” according to the CEO and founder of tourism and real estate project management and development company Essentia, José Gil Duarte. 

Addressing the first Essentia Live #1 conference “Global Brands, Tourist Destinations and the Real Estate Market”  Gil Duarte asked how after suffering a recession without precedence between 2011 and 2015, leaving Portugal on the “brink of an abyss” with Troika and an unsustainable public debt of 129% of GDP, a net loss of 470,000 jobs between 2010 and 2013, did the country suddenly become a success story in such a short period of time.

“The country suffered its biggest wave of emigration in its recent history with around 650,000 people leaving between 2010 and 2016 in search of opportunities. In the first quarter of 2013 unemployment hit 17.5%, the highest number since records began.  The Portuguese became depressed, sought alternative answers and went in search of opportunities in other parts of the world. They went through great suffering.  How then did we change the perception of our reality in such a short space of time?” 

Much has been written on the question and part of the explanation stems from one economic activity in particular: Tourism – which taking into account its ability to cut across the economy, has helped to boost and energise other sectors as diverse as culture in its different aspects, construction, real estate and transport and taking into consideration its capacity to disseminate, promote and develop — has developed and promoted cities, locations, culture, identity, lifestyle and products overseas.  

Some figures that add weight to this idea are: Exports to GDP – between 2008 and 2017 they went from 26% to 42%, for the same period the impact of tourism on total exports almost doubled, reaching 18% of total exports.  The impact of Tourism on GDP went from 4.6% in 2011 to 7.8% in 2017. 

An extraordinary period in Portugal’s history

“The speed at which the paradigm changed has had such an impact that I feel that we are in an extraordinary period in Portugal’s history and, in particular, the city of Lisbon, and as in all extraordinary moments we are confronted with countless opportunities as well as enormous challenges. 

“I see that the way — as we understand it both collectively and individually – that we deal with this moment in our history will determine our ability to understand and integrate our past while laying the present foundations for our future”.       

José Gil Duarte explained how throughout its history Lisbon was Greek, Roman and Arab – a cultural melting pot where religions, peoples and cultures co-existed, a stop-over for those seeking a new life; a welcoming haven for those seeking a better life. 

“It has experienced many migratory movements throughout its history.    Diversity and multiculturalism are an integral part of its DNA, which constitute a huge competitive advantage within the current landscape” he said.    

“In a complex context in which the district of Lisbon lost 260,205 inhabitants between 1981 and 2011 (around 32% of its population) and where in 2007, 4,665 buildings were empty, Lisbon as an investment capital is attracting a range of investors and investments across the board which I don’t think we’ve seen in this city on this scale since its reconstruction after the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755,” adds José Gil Duarte.   

Much of this investment has been directed at Tourism in different areas which has enabled a raft of new accommodation offer, has attracted events (in 1997 Lisbon organised 17 annual events, in 2015 it organised 145), improved transport infrastructure — in 1997 Lisbon airport transported 6.6 million passengers, in 2016 – 22.45 million passengers. New museums have appeared, public spaces have been refurbished, foci for entertainment have sprung up, our cuisine has enjoyed a renaissance, new high street store concepts have arisen and services have become differentiated. 

Maturity and professionalism in the sectors

However, Lisbon’s growth and recognition as a tourism destination as well as an investment destination has not taken place merely because of favourable economic circumstances, but rather from a process of maturity and professionalism in the tourism and real estate sector.  

José Gil Duarte says, “Lisbon’s years of experience in the hotels market and contexts has led the sector to experience a notable development in its business models, investment and professionalism. 

An archetype of these emerging hotel products that the current professionalisation of the sector has permitted the development of is the concept hotel.  Hotels for people, characterised by the creation of unique environments and focused on providing a complete and singular experience for the guest.  It has therefore meant an opportunity for important processes of regeneration and urban rehabilitation, a valuing of creative and artistic professions, the generation of new clusters, meeting points, a backdrop creating a new cultural layer in the location in which it is inserted, not just from the refurbishment of heritage but also because of the life and experience it affords,” he explained.

Lisbon is, he pointed out, on the international investment map, occupying the top spot in the ranking of preferred cities for real estate investment for 2019. A reality that reflects the progress of the real estate and tourism sectors in Portugal, the professionalisation of different market players and the attractiveness of the Portuguese capital, and these depict Lisbon on the international panorama as a cohesive and competent investment destination. 

“Aware that market understanding, transparency of information and the application of best practices are key factors for the sustainability and retention of investment in Lisbon and Portugal and in allowing the cycle that began recently to continue, we have made a commitment to publish our “Insider” report with PWC so as to contribute to fostering best practices that ensure that the destination remains attractive” he concluded.


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