Tourism

MICE tourism

Many visitors to Portugal come for meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE), an industry in which the Iberian nation is a world leader.

In 2022, Portugal held the seventh-most conferences in the world, while Lisbon was the second city with the most MICE events.

Tourism in Portugal is experiencing a moment of resurgence as the country gradually returns to levels close to pre-pandemic figures. Revenue generated by tourism was EUR 21.1 billion in 2022, up 15.4% from EUR 18.3 billion in 2019, according to the country’s central bank, BDP. Meanwhile, 22.3 million tourists arrived in 2022, only 9.6% less than in 2019. But, of these, there were many who came to the country to participate in meetings, incentives, conferences, and exhibitions (MICE), an industry in which Portugal is a world leader.

In 2022, Portugal held the seventh-most conferences globally, according to a report by the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). Thus, Portugal is placed in the top-ten for MICE tourism, alongside countries such as the US, Spain, and Italy. In Europe, the country was the sixth-largest organizer and host of conferences, according to ICCA data.

We can see that the country is a world power in this industry, but in terms of cities, Lisbon was the second biggest host of MICE events in 2022, with a total of 144. First was Vienna, with 162, while third was Paris, with 134. Approximately 85% of the MICE meetings identified by ICCA were either fully face-to-face or hybrid, reflecting the gradual return to in-person events following the increase in online meetings in response to restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

These results reflect the efforts made by the government in recent years to make Portugal one of Europe’s leading tourist destinations, including MICE. In this regard, the government has seen a great opportunity in taking advantage of Portugal’s geographical location as a gateway from Europe to the American continent. Lisbon has direct flights to some of the most important cities in the Americas, such as Sao Paulo and New York. At the same time, the Portuguese capital enjoys a varied air connection with the rest of the European capitals, which can be reached in just 1 to 4 hours.

This privileged location between America and Europe is combined with Portugal’s excellent quality of life. Lisbon and Porto, the country’s two most economically important cities, boast top restaurants and high-quality business hotels at more competitive prices than in other parts of Europe. The country’s gastronomy is among the most renowned in the world, as evidenced by the fact that there are 38 Michelin-starred restaurants throughout Portugal.

Portugal’s more-than 300 days of sunshine a year are another key asset for the development of MICE tourism in Portugal. In this regard, Porto and Lisbon stand out as two cities with an important industrial sector, in addition to a relevant leisure segment to complete the agenda of activities that accompany the events. In fact, in the ICCA report in which Lisbon is the second-best city in the world for MICE tourism events, Porto ranks sixteenth. However, other beach destinations within Portugal such as Madeira and the Algarve region have also gained popularity in recent years for their excellent climate and gastronomic offer, especially the city of Faro for its golf courses and its good air connections with other European cities.

One of the government’s strategies has been the creation of economic incentives to attract MICE visitors through the Portugal Events program, managed by the organization Turismo de Portugal. This program allocates EUR5 million in direct economic assistance for both 2023 and 2024 for holding events, conferences, seminars, lectures, congresses, courses, and workshops.

Under this program, each organizer can obtain an economic incentive of up to EUR250,000 provided that it invests a minimum of EUR100,000 in the event. Domestic or foreign companies with representation in Portugal, as well as convention centers, professional associations, and regional tourism promotion agencies are eligible for this program. These incentives are granted in the form of a direct allocation to finance events on Portuguese territory.

One of the most important events in Portugal in 2022 was World Youth Day (WYD), when approximately 1 million Catholics from all over the world flocked to the country for a gathering at which Pope Francis participated. This religious event is very special, as the Catholic Church only organizes a WYD approximately every three years. The large movement of people during those days posed a challenge to Portugal’s hotel network and its infrastructure for hosting events, challenges that the country overcame with ease.

The most significant events on Portugal’s calendar include Portugal Tech Week, the BTL International Tourism Fair, the International Golf Travel Market, and the IHF World Hospital Congress, an event that changes venue annually and that in 2024 will take place in Rio de Janeiro.

Lisbon has the most extensive infrastructure for holding MICE events. Focused on the trade fair sector, the city has venues such as the Feira Internacional de Lisboa, the Congress Center, and the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. For its part, Porto’s main venue is Exponor, followed by the Alfandega Congress Center. Since most events tend to be concentrated in these two cities, the Portugal Events program offers an additional financial incentive to those organizing a conference or business meeting in one of the country’s less densely populated regions.

Tourism has become one of the cornerstones of the Portuguese economy. The country is approaching pre-COVID-19 visitor numbers, so with its excellent climate and popular gastronomy, it is well positioned to remain among the top-ten destinations for MICE tourism. It is currently the seventh country in the world with the most MICE events, but it would not be surprising to see Portugal in the top five in the next few years. So, if you are traveling to Portugal for business, you are sure to enjoy a memorable and profitable experience.

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