Portugal swept up at the World Travel Awards, hosted in Madeira, clocking in with a total of 39 awards – an increase of three from last year’s total.
This year, Portugal received the Best European Tourist Destination for the third year running. Also included were prizes for several hotel categories such as Best Business, Design, Luxury, All-inclusive, and Romantic hotels. Portuguese airline TAP was voted Europe’s leading airline to South America and Africa.
Algarve beach won a total of five different awards, including Best Europe Beach Destination, a prize it won five times before in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Local resort Quinta do Lago was considered the Best Beach Resort in Europe, while the Conrad Hotel won Best European Luxury Lifestyle Resort; Vila Vita Parc in Lagoa is once again the Best Luxury Hotel & Villas in Europe, and the Dunas Douradas Beach Club has been chosen Best European Villas Resort in 2019.
The city of Lisbon won the title of Europe’s Best City Break Destination and Best Cruise Port, while neighbouring Madrid was named “Europe’s Leading Meetings & Conference Destination”.
Madeira also retained its title as Europe’s Leading Island Destination. Nicknamed the “island of eternal spring” due to its subtropical climate, the north Atlantic island of Madeira is popular year-round, with nearly 1.5 million tourists visiting annually.
Paula Cabaço, Regional Secretary for Tourism and Culture, Madeira, said that they’ve worked hard to put the island on the map for European tourism. “We could not be happier with this distinction. Receiving this prize, at home, the first time we host the WTA Europe Gala Ceremony, has an even more special flavour.”
The Passadiços do Paiva walkway, a stretch of wooden walkways along the bank of the Paiva River, won the Best Tourism Development Project award. The untouched landscape is recognised by UNESCO as a Geological Heritage of Humanity. Dark Sky Alqueva, a nature reserve, received the European Prize for Responsible Tourism.
The World Travel Awards is a yearly gala event founded in 1993 and run by World Media And Events Limited; considered the “tourism Oscars”. During the awards, an international jury of hospitality leaders, mainly from the World Travel and Tourism Council, decided on awards presented to hotels and other hospitality companies, on both global and regional levels in categories such as hotel, airline, and destination. It’s widely recognised as the ultimate hallmark of excellence, and their gala events are routinely attended by government and industry leaders.
The most recent gala in Madeira was the fourth leg of the WTA Grand Tour 2019. Other regional events this year were held in Montego Bay (Jamaica), Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), Mauritius, La Paz (Bolivia), and Phu Quoc (Vietnam). The Grand Finale will be held later this year with the winners in Muscat, Oman.
Portugal’s President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa spoke after the event, saying that he “welcomes the election of Portugal as Best European Tourist Destination”, and believes it is “an opportunity to further enhance” other aspects of national tourism, such as nature conservation or social cohesion.
“The President of the Republic celebrates the election of Portugal as the best European tourist destination for the third consecutive year and for obtaining 39 awards in the World Travel Awards”, President de Sousa said in a message published on his official Presidency page.
“This good news for Portuguese and for the tourism sector should also be an opportunity to better value the environment and nature conservation, social cohesion and land use, culture and heritage and all values of authenticity of the national identity”, he added.
Graham E. Cooke, the founder of the World Travel Awards, said, “Our inaugural ceremony in Madeira has proved an incredible success. We have had the privilege of recognising the leading destinations, hotels, resorts, airlines and travel providers from across Europe, and my congratulations to each of our winners.”
Pillar of the Portuguese Economy
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Tourism is a staple of the Portuguese economy, serving tens of millions of domestic and international tourists. In fact, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) annual review, 20 percent of the Portuguese economy – and an equal portion of all jobs – are driven by tourism.
Always a popular beach and historic destination, tourism in Portugal has broken records in the last few years, after the government and businesses turned to the sector to boost economic growth, following the 2011 to 2014 debt crisis.
Due to financial woes, the unemployment rate climbed to 12.4 percent according to Eurostat; by 2018, however, the figure had fallen to 6.7 percent. Young people were most especially affected; during the crisis the youth unemployment spiked at 50 percent, but today that number has fallen to 20 percent. All told, this resulted in over 2 million people who left Portugal – 500,000 attributed directly to the crisis years.
Since 2016, the government has achieved a budget deficit of only 2.1 percent, well within the 3 percent ceiling established by the EU. And last year, Portugal achieved a deficit of only 0.7 percent of GDP. While Portugal still has significant public debt, that number has greatly declined, and is expected to amount to 107.4 GDP by 2022.
Stabilising economic developments and public finances allowed Portugal to repay the IMF early, which in turn contributed to stronger foreign investment and global business activity. This, in turn, has led to increased private consumption, which attracts additional investment and boosts exports, all of which strengthens the economy and increases employment. The boost in tourism has been a major part of Portugal’s recovery story and continued growth.
So far, the government has taken tourism into account when crafting tax policies. Slashing VAT from 23 to 13 percent on tourism and hospitality helped pave the way to cementing Portugal’s status as a desirable tourist destination. Expansive economic and fiscal policies – abolishing wage reductions and tax hikes, previously introduced during the crisis – have also contributed to this boost.
Tax exemptions specifically aimed at attracting retirees to re-settle in Portugal were also part of this effort. Under the new tax law, foreign pensioners applying for resident status, in the case of multiple residences, must reside in Portugal 183 days out of the year. If they do so, they are exempt from paying income tax. This boosts the amount of money flowing into real estate (either via purchase or by renting) and various amenities and luxuries in the tourism sector.
Last year, the tourism sector grew by more than 8 percent, contributing over 38 billion euros to the economy. This level of growth is the highest of any EU country, and well above the average 3 percent growth rate seen across Europe. While most visitors came from abroad, a solid third were domestic visitors, which indicates a healthy rise in disposable income among the population.
Portugal’s tourism sector is expected to grow another 5.3 percent by the end of 2019 – more than double the European expected growth rate in the sector, estimated at 2.5 percent.
Gloria Guevara, WTTC President & CEO, said that “Portugal has the potential to increase the size of its travel economy even further by growing the size of its business tourism sector; at present, business travellers account for only 15 percent of all spending in Portugal against a European average of 21 percent.”
Guevara told Reuters that Portugal was already positioned within the top five most-visited countries in Europe, and now “they should make sure that they continue as one of the top five”. Increased growth is likely to occur thanks to Portugal’s culinary history, culture, and sunny climate, complete with long coastlines.
But capitalising on growth also means that Portugal must avoid the traps of over-tourism seen in already-popular hot spots, like Barcelona. This means further investment in infrastructure, including potentially a new airport.
Guevera added that “if they (Portugal) continue doing what they are doing, another 100,000 jobs will be created”, expanding what has become the country’s largest economic sector.
Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism, Ana Mendes Godinho, said “the data revealed by the WTTC about the impact of tourism in Portugal shows that the growth of tourism in our country is one of the fastest in Europe, which demonstrates that we are leading the future”.