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PORTUGAL - Tourism

Raul Almeida

President, Turismo Centro de Portugal

Bio

Raul Almeida is President of Turismo Centro de Portugal.

"The central region of Portugal has enormous potential in terms of tourism, which has only recently begun to be discovered at an international level."
Turismo Centro de Portugal is keen to transform the center of Portugal into a global beacon of sustainable, diverse tourism—and it’s well on the way.
In light of the region’s rich historical and cultural heritage, how does Turismo Centro de Portugal plan to leverage these assets to attract diverse tourism in the coming years?

The central region of Portugal has enormous potential in terms of tourism, which has only recently begun to be discovered at an international level. We are, as you say, a region with a wealth of history and culture that is on a par with the best regions in Europe. We have a wide range of assets and diversified resources that can please all segments of visitors. Those who visit the center of Portugal can find nature in its purest state, as well as cities with an increasingly vibrant dynamism. This territory includes parks and nature reserves, protected landscapes, four UNESCO World Heritage sites (namely the Monastery of Alcobaça, Monastery of Batalha, Convent of Christ, and University of Coimbra, Alta, and Sofia), creative cities, thermal baths and spas, international religious tourism destinations, historical, schist, and mountain villages, as well as castles, monasteries, and convents, where you can breathe in the history of this country. Moreover, there is a vast intangible heritage, such as the most remote traditions, excellent wines, and age-old gastronomic recipes. All these assets are promoted by Turismo Centro de Portugal, through various structuring documents and in close collaboration with private companies, local authorities, associations, and other local tourism stakeholders. The region’s tourism demand figures, which broke records in 2023 and show an increasing diversity of visitors, are proof that this is the correct strategy.

How does the organization plan to sustain and further enhance its position in the competitive tourism landscape?

The Centro de Portugal Regional Tourism Authority has received several distinctions and awards over the last few years, all of which recognize the quality of our work and the effectiveness of our strategy. These honors encourage us to continue our commitment to constantly improve the promotion of the region, both within the country and internationally. Tourism is an extremely competitive and demanding area, so we can never take anything for granted. That’s why we periodically review our strategy and come up with new solutions in order to sustain and, preferably, increase the region’s national and international reputation. To give you an example, by the end of the year we expect to have finalized the Strategic Reference 2030, which outlines the main areas of strategic intervention that we will develop and implement over the coming years, considering the new trends in tourist demand and growing sustainability concerns.

With the increasing importance of sustainability in tourism, what initiatives or strategies does Turismo Centro de Portugal have in place to ensure responsible tourism development and minimize the environmental impact of tourism activities in the region?

Sustainability is a word that has fortunately entered the tourism lexicon. However, due to the specific characteristics of the center of Portugal, it is a concept that has long been part of our priorities. There was little talk of sustainability, and it was already a concern for Turismo Centro de Portugal. I could give several examples of initiatives at this level, but I must mention the “Sustainable Centre” project, which we started in 2021 in partnership with Biosphere Portugal. It is an ambitious and labor-intensive project that aims to create the conditions, throughout the territory, for the center of Portugal to be the first tourist region in the world with biosphere certification, awarded to entities that are committed to complying with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. This certification is a major objective of Turismo Centro de Portugal and very important steps are being taken toward this end, involving municipalities, companies, and associations from all over the territory that, by joining this project, are committing to implementing a set of good sustainability practices in the tourism offering. We believe that Centro de Portugal will effectively be recognized as the first sustainable tourist region in environmental, economic, and social terms. When growth is not sustainable, it has a negative impact on all areas. In the specific case of tourism, it is essential that its agents, together, understand that the activity can and should contribute to improve populations’ quality of life.

The Tourism Investment Support Center plays a crucial role in supporting investment and entrepreneurship. Can you elaborate on specific initiatives or projects aimed at fostering innovation and sustainable development within the hospitality and tourism sector in central Portugal?

Turismo Centro de Portugal has an investment support division that deals directly with over 25,000 tourism-related enterprises in the region, mostly SMEs, sharing information about investment opportunities, but also gathering information within the Sustainable Tourism Observatory, a project currently in development guided by UNWTO protocol and recently certified as a member of INSTO. This division is also responsible for the development of tourism entrepreneurship in the region, and enhances links between education institutions and enterprises. It organizes a competition for new tourism businesses (eight editions, with 378 business ideas presented) and a tourism-related academic thesis competition (7 editions), as well as an acceleration/open innovation program co-organized with 15 regional enterprise incubators (2 editions). As can be seen, fostering innovation and sustainable development is a major concern for us.

In the ever-evolving landscape of tourism, what market trends does Turismo Centro de Portugal identify as particularly influential, and how does the organization plan to capitalize on these trends to further enhance the region’s attractiveness for visitors and investors alike?

The new trends in tourist demand favor, among other factors, the diversification of the offer and it is on this trend that we are betting. Because of its characteristics, the center of Portugal cannot, and should not, be a destination with a single product, such as sun and beach, culture, or history. But it can, and should, show itself to the world as a destination that manages to combine various offers, including sun and beach, culture, and history, for sure, but also nature, active and sports tourism, gastronomic tourism, wines, traditions and popular festivals, and interaction with the local population, among many other attractions. More than a mass tourism destination, we want to establish ourselves as a high-quality niche tourism destination. We have all the conditions to be so, as has been recognized by the awards we have received and the growing number of visitors. The opening of new tourist facilities in less obvious locations, further away from the usual destinations, also proves that investors are aware of this reality.

As the newly appointed President of Turismo Centro de Portugal, could you share your vision for the organization and highlight the main initiatives you aim to undertake during your mandate, particularly focusing on advancing the hospitality and tourism sector in the region?

I believe that this organization will only fulfill its mission if it brings together all the actors in the region directly or indirectly involved in tourism. That is why we intend to deepen our collaboration and connection with other public and private institutions. With this in mind, we intend to move forward with the creation of a Strategic Council for Turismo do Centro, which, as the name suggests, will have a consultative role in the strategies we want to implement, and which will bring together the main regional stakeholders in tourism. The continuous focus on improving the offer available to visitors, as well as the training, attraction, and retention of human resources, to mitigate the shortage of workers in the tourism sector, and the monitoring and evaluation of tourist activity, to help companies and decision makers to know the impact of their strategies, are other measures to which we will pay special attention.

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