“Algarve tourism is stronger than ever … We must continue to improve our services,” says new tourism boss André Gomes
Opening up the Algarve to new markets and attracting new direct air links to Faro Airport is one of the main goals of the region’s new tourism boss, André Gomes. The announcement came in his first ever in-depth interview since taking up the position.
It’s been a busy two months for André Gomes since he took charge as the new president of the Algarve Tourism Board (Região de Turismo do Algarve, or RTA). One of his priorities is to reinforce the Algarve’s position in terms of air connectivity.
“It’s clearly one of our priorities. There is a strong focus on promoting our air routes from Faro,” said André Gomes, highlighting the growing number of American and Canadian holidaymakers seeking to discover the Algarve.
“Having a direct connection with these markets would be advantageous for everyone. So, it’s clearly a worthwhile endeavour,” the new tourism boss said.
“We also welcome, with great satisfaction, the new flights operated by SATA between the Azores and Faro, which will start next year. The Azores, with these new flights, could serve as a stopover for North American travellers coming to the Algarve,” said Gomes.
The tourism chief also highlighted the recent increase in air links to other European destinations and the rise in passenger numbers at Faro Airport, which have helped the Algarve pave the way for another potentially record-breaking year.
“We are on track to establish record numbers at Faro Airport this year, just like in other indicators such as the number of guests, overnight stays, revenue, occupancy… We are well on our way to possibly having the best tourist year ever. We are always talking about 2019, but this year we might even have better results.”
While a slight decrease in Portuguese tourists in the Algarve made headlines this summer, André Gomes believes the decrease was more than compensated by increases in other foreign markets.
“We have to highlight the significant growth in other markets, which largely offset any potential decrease in the number of Portuguese visitors. Also important was the substantial growth we experienced in the first half of the year (January-May, still considered “low season”), a trend we are also seeing now: we are in October, and our occupancy rates are above 80%. We are maintaining occupancy rates almost at the August level,” he said.
Once again, the North American market could play a key role in bolstering tourism numbers outside of the summer season.
“It was already experiencing significant growth before the pandemic and now, in the post-pandemic period, it’s growing at a rate of over 80%. It’s an extremely interesting market, as it also represents investment opportunities – we just need to look at the number of hotels being acquired by funds backed by American companies and investors.”
André Gomes also said that American and Canadian tourists are interested in more than just the Algarve’s sun and beaches, often preferring what the region has to offer in terms of nature tourism.
“We hope TAP will look at us differently”
Tourism and hotel leaders in the Algarve have not been shy about criticising national airline TAP for “ignoring” the region when it comes to its offering of air links.
No matter what happens in the privatisation process that TAP is currently going through, André Gomes remains hopeful that the airline will begin “looking at us differently”.
“The weight that TAP represents in the operations at Faro Airport is extremely minimal, and I say that despite taking great pride in TAP. I always prefer to fly with TAP. It’s our flagship carrier, and I believe it’s a promotional asset for the destination of Portugal worldwide. I hope there will be a shift in TAP’s approach,” he said.
“I was somewhat pleased to read the other day that, due to the congestion at Lisbon Airport, TAP is looking at other airports in the country as alternatives to strengthen its operations. However, I didn’t like to read that the president of TAP specifically mentioned Porto and didn’t mention Faro. It’s worth noting that TAP could be much more significant for Faro Airport, not so much from a tourist perspective because domestic tourists don’t travel to the Algarve by air as often. But, for example, in the business tourism sector, Porto has seen significant growth in recent years due to business tourism, driven by the air bridge between Lisbon and Porto. I believe the Algarve could benefit greatly if TAP were to strengthen its connections to the region, with more flights to Porto and Lisbon,” the tourism boss added.
Government “must recognise importance of hosting big events”
The Algarve’s recent history of hosting major international events – as well as training camps by world-famous football teams – has also been playing a major role in the establishment of the region’s international reputation.
But more can be done, André Gomes believes, and more government support is needed to do so.
“It comes down to the government recognising that it’s worth investing in these types of events, just as it invests in events like the Web Summit, hosting the 2030 World Cup, and the World Youth Day. I believe there needs to be a clear and obvious acknowledgement that (the central government’s) investment in these large international events pays off,” he said.
The MotoGP Grand Prix held at the Algarve International Racetrack in Portimão, the Volta ao Algarve cycling competition and the Portugal Masters golf tournament were highlighted by André Gomes as the three leading sports events held in the Algarve, despite the latter not being held in the region this year.
“The issue of hosting major events in the Algarve largely depends on the funding provided by central government, which must exist and which I have advocated and fought for,” the tourism chief said.
Even hosting an F1 race, which the Algarve did in 2020 and 2021 when it served as a replacement for GPs cancelled in other parts of the world due to the Covid-19 pandemic, could be a reality once again with enough support from the government.
“I wouldn’t say it’s unrealistic, especially because, in sports, opportunities do arise. Even in the current F1 season, at a certain point there was a possibility that a Grand Prix might not have taken place (which it eventually did), and we were pleased to see that Portimão and the Algarve International Circuit (AIA) are always there as a homologated ‘backup’ with all the conditions to host these events,” André Gomes told us.
Tourist tax essential
The new regional tourism head honcho also reiterated the importance of implementing a region-wide ‘tourist tax’, which currently is only charged in three municipalities – Faro, Olhão and Vila Real de Santo António.
“I find it hard to believe that a tourist destination of excellence such as the Algarve only has three boroughs charging a tourist tax. I’ve been to many places, which aren’t even tourist destinations, much less of excellence, that charge tourist taxes.
“Any top-notch tourist destination charges a tourist tax, and that doesn’t deter tourists from visiting those destinations. I would like to see is all municipalities (in Algarve) charge a tourist tax equally,” he said.
Image of safe destination must be preserved
This year saw some reports of a lack of policing in tourist hotspots in the Algarve, such as Carvoeiro and Albufeira.
While he says these are mostly one-off situations, André Gomes acknowledged that police forces in the region need more resources – be it agents, equipment, vehicles and infrastructure – to adequately do their jobs.
“It’s well-known that we are a destination that is renowned for its safety,” he said, admitting, however, that the Algarve is a region that often lacks the necessary police resources to ensure this level of safety that it is known for.
“It is not a concern to me, but it is a situation that we will continue to follow closely.”
Balance is needed in Benagil
André Gomes also addressed the overcrowding of Benagil’s famous sea cave, which has even led to the creation of a working group dedicated to finding a solution to this issue.
“I think the key is balance. There needs to be a balance between the issues of safety and environmental protection and that amazing poster (the image of the Benagil sea cave), which is one of the most used images to promote the Algarve. We cannot completely restrict access. There has to be a balance…”
Hence the rules that are being debated behind closed doors and which are expected to be presented by December 31 this year.