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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Portugal seeks culture vulture tourists
By Will Smale
BBC News Online business reporter in Lisbon

Belem Tower, Lisbon
Belem Tower, one of Lisbon's many architectural treasures
If you are the type of English tourist whose idea of a great foreign holiday is sitting outside an English bar while eating English food and gulping down English beer, there is a good chance you have been to Portugal's Algarve region.

Like the Costa del Sol across in neighbouring Spain, Portugal's south coast has more than its fair share of over-developed tourist resorts where British and German holidaymakers on package-tours seem to be in competition to confirm their national stereotypes.

It's a lot of fish and chips and lager, bratwursts and more lager.

Something which Portugal's tourist board - Icep Portugal - is more than happy to admit is fine if you like that sort of thing.

After all, the Algarve - which remains Portugal's main tourist centre - has since the 1970s been a very important foreign earner for a country that has worked hard to both develop its economy after decades of stagnation.

It's just that Icep Portugal is also increasing its efforts to attract more of the growing breed of independent and culturally-minded tourists. The type of holidaymaker who would want to experience the real Portugal.

Hidden treasures

Officials at Icep Portugal hope Euro 2004 will greatly help them achieve this by putting the country in the spotlight, and reminding potential holidaymakers across Europe that there is much more to Portugal than just the Algarve (which, to be fair, does have a wealth of natural beauty and attractions to be enjoyed off the beaten tourist track).

A beach in the Algarve
You can still find peace and quiet on the Algarve

Amongst the places the tourist board hopes to tempt more people to visit are the cosmopolitan capital Lisbon, the historic second city of Porto and the lush green valleys of the northern Minho region.

"The holiday market is changing," said Jose Antonio Preto da Silva, director of tourism at the Portuguese Trade and Tourism Office in London.

Our job is to highlight the many possibilities for people coming to Portugal to enjoy themselves, Euro 2004 is a wonderful opportunity to do this
Portuguese tourism boss Jose Antonio Preto da Silva

"Traditionally most of the tourists who come to Portugal, visit mainly the Algarve and Madeira, but also Lisbon, mainly on package tours. But today's holidaymakers are becoming more sophisticated, more interested in getting to know the local culture.

He added: "They want a much more individual and cultural holiday, they don't want the mass treatment as much."

Icep Portugal estimates that while the visiting football supporters for Euro 2004 will contribute 260m euros (173m; $317m) in direct tourism revenues, the long term tourism boost could be worth as much as 360m euros over the next six years.

To help achieve this, it is accompanying Euro 2004 with a publicity blitz around the catch line - 'In Portugal extra time is always the best part of the game', focusing on all the things to see and do in and around the nine host cities.

"We just need to create more awareness of Portugal's hidden treasures," said Mr Preto da Silva.

Football supporters

Portugal has already started to respond to the challenge, looking at how new initiatives can be developed over the next five to 10 years, Mr da Silva explains.

Pasteis de nata - Portuguese custard tarts
Never under-estimate the delight of a Portuguese custard tart

"Of course the traditional package sector is not going to end, and we appreciate their visits.

"But holidaymakers are not so homogeneous as before. And they don't want everything done for them. They are more independent."

"Our job is to highlight the many possibilities for people coming to Portugal to enjoy themselves; Euro 2004 is a wonderful opportunity to do this," he added.

Most people in Portugal seem to be confident that Euro 2004 will work wonders for the country's growing tourism sector, even if they were initially concerned about the cost of hosting Euro 2004.

There are however still some cautionary voices, such as economist Margarida Matos Rosa, head of institutional asset management at BNP Paribas bank in Lisbon.

"Euro 2004 will certainly improve Portugal's profile, but I'm not sure if it help bring a more sophisticated type of traveller - no offence, but we are talking football supporters here," she said.

"I hope it will though."

Next week, BBC News Online takes a look at the wider Portuguese economy and how entrepreneurship has only been able to flourish in recent times.


Portuguese football fan Can Portugal afford Euro 2004?
The cost and benefits to the Portuguese economy



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