What's not to like about Portugal?

15 Feb, 2018

It seems that Portugal has often been overshadowed by its larger Iberian neighbour, Spain.

However, over the last few years, the country's tourism and hospitality sector has boomed.

Besides Portugal's obvious leisure and cultural attractions, tourists have flocked to the country, as they have to Iberia in general, due to apprehension about terrorism and political unrest in former favoured beach destinations like Turkey, Egypt and Tunisia.

Indeed, the Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Index 2017, published by the World Economic Forum (WEF), gave Portugal its best rating for lack of terrorism risk, whereas Spain was ranked only 70th worldwide for this cirterion.

And in terms of overall security, Portugal was ranked 11th worldwide, while Spain was in 18th position.

In Europe, only three Nordic countries (Finland, Iceland and Norway) and Switzerland were rated higher.

Portugal's  tourism and hospitality sector has boomed the last few years

Portugal's multiple attractions

Nevertheless, the real attractions for Portugal are its beaches, golf courses and cultural heritage as exemplified by Lisbon and Porto, but also Braga, Beja, Coimbra and Guimarães.

Portugal was the first European power to have a colonial empire - already in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Since it went into a decline relatively early - by the 18th and 19th centuries - much of the nation's rich cultural and architectural heritage has been preserved due to lack of economic development and modernisation.

Portugal also has extensive viniculture that is centred in the valley of the Douro River which flows to the sea at Porto, known since centuries for its port wines.

Pousadas offer a unique cultural experience

Tourists can directly experience what it's like to inhabit an ancient palace or convent through staying in Pousadas during their journey.

Indeed, most Pousadas are housed in buildings of historical significance.

Pousada Mosteiro de Guimarães

Many are former convents (conventos) or monasteries (mosteiros), though a few, like the Pousada Viana do Castelo, north of Porto, are purpose-built hotels.

The Pousadas chain of historic hotels is managed by Pestana, the country's largest hotel chain, which won the mandate in 2003, following an international tender.

The portfolio consists of 34 unique properties located in converted monuments, palaces and castles spread across the country.

In 2005, the Pestana Group took the Pousadas de Portugal brand abroad with the opening of the Pestana Convento do Carmo, by Pousadas de Portugal, a Leading Hotel of the World property in São Salvador da Bahia in Brazil.

Also, four of the pousadas are affiliated to the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, a New York-based marketing consortium, which regroups 520 small mostly independent hotels worldwide.

Pousada Mosteiro de Amares

It can be noted that unlike the Pestana-branded portfolio of more modern hotels, there are relatively few Pousadas in Portugal’s prime beach holiday destinations like the Algarve.

Rather most are located in areas where the majority of the population has lived historically.

An exception, however, is the sparsely populated region of Alentejo, between Lisbon and the Algarve, where nine of the pousadas are to be found – housed in former monasteries, convents and castles.

Praça do Comércio

One of the more remarkable pousadas is the Praça do Comércio, located on the banks of the Tejo River, in Terreiro do Paço – Praça do Comércio (Comércio Square), in the heart of Lisbon's historic district.

The property is a structure of major historical importance, as the entrepôt where, for centuries, ships unloaded their wares.

Following its destruction in the earthquake of 1755, the building was part of the reconstruction of Lisbon, mandated by the Marquês de Pombal and subsequently housed the Ministry of Internal Affairs and a police station, as well as.

Nowadays, the Pousada de Lisboa, Monument Hotel Pestana, which is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels affiliation, offers 90 rooms, a spa, swimming pool, sauna, treatment room and fitness centre, two bars and a restaurant, with seating for 80 people. 

Pousada de Lisboa - Praça do Comércio

Soaring hotel performance

According to STR Global, there are 1’854 hotels in Portugal, with 71% of the room stock operating in the three- and four-star segment.

The country's three main hotel markets are the extreme southern region of the Algarve for beach tourism and Lisbon and Porto as leading urban destinations.

According to Portugal's hotel association, the AHP (Associação da Hotelaria de Portugal), which claims to represent more than 60% of rooms in Portugal, 41 new hotels were due to open in the country during 2017, with a further 42 in 2018.

Some of the properties are large with as many as 300 guestrooms.

Portugal's  tourism and hospitality sector has boomed the last few years

The cities are benefitting as much as beach destinations from the upsurge in tourism, with Lisbon having experienced a 22.1% increase in RevPAR (revenue per available room) for the first four months of 2017, to €67.31, according to STR.

The research company notes that Lisbon has seen consistent growth since the beginning of 2016, “as many tourists have chosen destinations in Portugal (or Spain) due to ongoing security concerns in other markets.”

According to PwC, Porto, the country’s second-largest city in the north, is expected to have led RevPAR growth in 2017 with an increase of almost 15% anticipated, and 12.8% growth expected for 2018.