The Algarve Tourism Board recently invited a group of journalists to attend the launch of the Portuguese/Spanish European Route of Discoveries project. A major part of the project was a ship called Victoria which was docked and open to the public for four days in February.
The ship was docked in the port of Baleeira in Sagres and is a replica of the first ship that successfully circumnavigated the world and which was under the command of Fernão de Magalhães. The replica ship is a part of a number of projects being planned, including the launch of a virtual museum.
The aim is to promote the route between Cape St. Vincent to Seville and to offer tourists something that’s a little different from the normal beach and golfing holiday. The hope is to combine the unique aspects of the Algarve that normally attract so many visitors with its more historical side.
The moment the project is still very much in the planning stage, but is being actively developed and promoted by the cultural and tourism boards in the Andalucia and Algarve regions. The aim is to raise awareness as to the immense historical heritage of these regions due to the explorers of the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries.
It’s expected that all planned activities will be operating by July this year, and that the Route of Discoveries itinerary will be complete. It’s also expected the virtual museum will be operational by this stage. The project has received a total investment of €450,000, three quarters of which has been financed by the Spain-Portugal Crossborder Cooperation programme.
Although Portugal may still be recovering from the economic crisis, its tourism industry is very much alive and kicking. While property in Portugal might not be quite as cheap as Spain, it is still pretty desirable, and the Portuguese government is doing its best to boost the market share of homes sold abroad. It’s currently trying to entice more foreign investors, and has introduced a number of new reforms including tax incentives of offering a flat rate of 20% to foreign residents and new residency reforms.
The very best of Portugal’s tourism industry recently travelled to London to try to boost the second home market. At the moment Portugal is 18th in the world for the number of tourists, but the government fully expects its ranking to increase.
In particular it’s looking to boost the year-round attractiveness of the country which in turn would support this business is dependent on tourism such as local restaurants. At the moment Portugal sells approximately 5,000 homes per year with average value of €200,000 each. The aim is to at least double this figure, and a new guide is to be produced in helping people to make the move to Portugal, or to explain the process of buying property there.
This guide includes important information on the residency permits, taxes, schools and health care, as well as pointing out exactly why Portugal is such a great place to live. It’s certainly still a popular country to visit, something that is constantly recognized by UK holiday companies. A leading online holiday planning company recently announced new holiday packages to Portugal, including a flight booking service to cater for the increased demand and interest in the country this year.
The Algarve is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Europe, and certainly in Portugal. It is visited by around 10 million visitors each year, 7 million of whom come from outside the country. A lot of them come from the UK, but the region is also very popular with other northern European nations.
It is situated on the southernmost tip of Portugal, and was originally the centre of trade when the country was occupied by the Moors; in fact its name originates from the Arabic word for West. As a result the Algarve has a very rich history and culture.
However it’s attractions that extend far beyond this, as it has around 155 km of coastline along its southern edge, and some truly beautiful beaches. The western edge of the region has around 88 km of coastline that are home to picturesque rocky coves.
The climate makes it easy to take advantage of all these beaches year-round, as even in the winter the temperatures can reach as high as 25°C, while in the summer they can peak at around 48°C. These factors mean it is a very popular winter holiday destination.
The tourism boom originally began in the 60s, and since then this region has seen substantial investment into facilities. There is a huge range of facilities and amenities including excellent golf courses and water parks. Some resorts are more family oriented while others are aimed at couples looking for a quieter holiday. Although many of the results are busy, Portugal does have a laid back atmosphere, and its huge ex-pat population means English is widely spoken and understood.
Last autumn the Portuguese government launched an initiative to try to cut €4 billion worth of public spending through the state reforms, and asked the international Monetary Fund for help. The government has now released a report from the IMF, but it’s not likely to be very popular.
It suggests that large-scale layoffs should be made within the public sector, and has also suggested reductions in pensions, unemployment and health benefits and education to try to save money. Although these cuts are likely to be very unpopular, it’s quite clear the welfare state isn’t sustainable. The aim of these spending cuts is to prepare the public sector within Portugal for the expiry of the bailout from the IMF and the European Union.
Although Portugal received a €78 billion bailout, under the terms of the rescue plan it is scheduled to return to financing itself within the bond market in the second half of this year. However opposition to the Portuguese bailout has increased considerably during the past few months, and it’s likely any of these proposed cuts would further inflame the situation. Many Portuguese already feel the welfare state has been negatively impacted by austerity measures.
These cuts weren’t originally part of the country’s bailout plan which was signed in 2011, but are likely to be evaluated by the IMF and the European Union next month. One of the possible measures suggested by the IMF is a reduction in the number of civil servants of between 10% and 20% which could save up to €2.7 billion. Cutting pensions by 10% would save another €2.3 billion.
During the next few months Portugal is expected to begin selling state-owned companies as part of a plan to try to persuade the troika to treat the country more leniently this year. The hope is that by selling off the national companies Portugal will be able to gain more support from the European Central Bank and the international Monetary Fund that may lead to interest rates being lowered on loans.
Companies being sold include the airport operator ANA, and the state broadcaster RTP. However it is not always easy to find buyers for state owned companies, as a recent bid for the national airline was turned down as the government was concerned the financing wasn’t solid enough. The Portuguese national airline currently has around €1.2 billion of debt.
Portugal has been told by the troika that it has to sell around €5 billion of state companies as part of its bailout deal, but it looks like the as if it will comfortably exceed this figure due to selloffs in its airports and the electricity sector. The government has already completed sales of 21% of the utility company Energias de Portugal which was sold for €2.7 billion to China Three Gorges, while another 25% share in the electricity grid operator REN was bought by the China State Grid for €387 million.
Portugal is due to return to the bond markets this year, and its borrowing costs have already fallen substantially. If it manages to successfully return to the bond markets then it’ll be a sure sign that its economic crisis is one on the way to being solved.
Although the Portuguese economy might not be doing so well, Portugal does score very highly in one particular sector. Portugal is streets ahead of other countries in producing renewable power, and around a quarter of its electricity is generated in this way, something that is likely to save the economy €9 billion over the next 20 years.
Renewable energy resources, especially wind farms, are cutting energy bills and reducing the carbon footprint of Portugal while in comparison Germany recently announced it is to build 10 new coal-fired power stations to replace nuclear power.
Renewable energy in Portugal has more than doubled in just 10 years, increasing from less than 5 GW in 2001 to reach just less than 11 GW last year. In 2001 renewable energy accounted for just 3% of electricity production, but by last year this had risen to 25%.
Wind energy accounted for 93% of Portugal’s electricity usage at one point, although admittedly this was at 4:30 AM in the morning. During the last decade Portugal’s use of fossil fuels has declined from 60% to less than 40%, and imports have fallen for five successive years.
The impact of renewable energy has meant Portugal saved €400 million between 2005 and 2010. Portugal has the world’s largest solar farm, and has Europe’s largest wind farm. It also has an impressive hydroelectric dam infrastructure. Just recently a Finnish company built a machine which is anchored to the ocean floor just north of Lisbon, and which utilises wave energy.
These types of projects could provide many jobs within the green energy sector in Portugal. In the past the Portuguese government used to give subsidies for electric vehicles and domestic solar panels, but these have been cut during the recent austerity measures.