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Lisbon takes the lion’s share

Originally a leisure destination, Lisbon has made a spectacular debut in business tourism. The figures speak for themselves: according to the WTO, this European capital reported the strongest increase in occupancy in 2006 with +14.6% in arrivals. But the city has a longterm vision to pursue its powerful rise by concentrating efforts on a few assets that it has decided to exploit.

Lisbon has never before experienced such a favorable situation with regard to tourism. In addition to recording the strongest growth in OR across all Europe’s capitals, the city concentrated more than 60% of visitors to Portugal in 2006. Stimulated by these figures, Turismo de Lisboa, the city’s tourist office, has no plans to stop the momentum. The organization implemented an extensive marketing program over the period 2007- 2010 that represents an investment of 207 million euros. Goal: to surpass 2 million international visitors yearly, for a 5.4% increase per annum. By 2017, the figure should even be close to 4 million, for total spending estimated at 6.4 billion euros.The capital of Portugal wanted to modernize its image. And it fully succeeded. Today it has its sights set high and in the distance. A shopping, amusement, culture and business center, it plans to become a main destination in the European Union by 2020, and it isn’t ready to slow its efforts to tempt developers.In order to concretize such ambitions, the organization is banking on the capital’s three seductive assets: authenticity, modernity and experience. The top area of spending is marketing: developing citybreaks, products that the city plans to highlight widescale on nearby supply markets, starting with the biggest – Spain – followed by the United Kingdom, Germany and France. The supply from the latter is up by 40% more visitors since January. As far as long-haul flights are concerned, a ranking by positions Lisbon as the number-three beach resort destination in Europe for American clientele (after Barcelona and Nice, but before Naples and Mykonos). The result of the city’s international renown, and particularly in the United States, is new emerging markets. Growing numbers of Irish, Russian and Polish tourists may be found trekking through the streets of La Baixa (the historic center of the city where most of the monuments are located) or Bairro Alto (the trendy, festive neighborhood par excellence). These populations have made the strongest contribution to the spectacular increase in occupancy rates at Lisbon’s hotels since the beginning of the year. Polish tourists come in at the top (arrivals up by more than 80% since January!), followed by Russian (+54%) and Irish tourists.But Turismo de Lisboa has identified other strong niches that are transnational: cruises, justifying the planning of a new terminal; golf tourists, which have been a focus of the major campaign “Golf with the best” on priority European markets since April; and religious tourism. More generally, the entire region is multiplying pretexts for traveling there. More athletic travelers can not only play golf, but they also have a vast area for water sports and many itineraries for hiking; culture lovers will enjoy Lisbon’s rich heritage as well as that of Sintra, a veritable city-museum that is on Unesco’s World Heritage List. Even more famous: Estoril, a hectic station, known for its casino and night life or the wine routes on the Costa Azul, which enjoy a fine reputation among enologists... Finally, the last argument that can make a difference in the balance: a study dated February 2007 identifies Lisbon as the safest capital in Old Europe in terms of urban crime alongside Helsinki.But the point where Lisbon is making a spectacular return in recent years, is in the MICE segment. According to a study by the International Congress & Convention Center Association, it is now one of the ten preferred cities for organizing conventions. Ranking 20th just seven years ago in 2000, today it is ninth alongside Copenhagen, placing it ahead of Madrid and Amsterdam. This is above all the result of the economic strength of the city, which has headquarters for many corporations, the busiest port on Europe’s Atlantic coast, and where the GNP per inhabitant is higher than the European average.Last year, the Portuguese capital welcomed 69 major international conventions. Last May, the International Food Show Alimentaria drew some 40,000 visitors. The election of the “Seven new wonders of the world”, which received much coverage by international media, was also held in the Portuguese capital. Lisbon’s pleasant climate (averaging 17° in the winter and 26° in the summer) lends itself to this type of event year round, but business is really picking up in April/May and in October/ November.The city has three major advantages for seducing companies: high quality hotel infrastructures since the wave of renovations, very competitive rates on site and the recent development of low-cost flights. The latter now represent 11.5% of Lisbon-bound flights, representing a 4% increase over 2006 (28 new weekly flights have been added this winter by Easyjet, SkyEurope and Vueling from key cities such as Madrid, Seville, Bristol, London or Vienna...). The airport’s proximity to the city is also non-negligible: just 15 minutes from the center.Behind Lisbon’s rise in power lies a will, a strategy that leaves nothing to chance. The great trigger dates back to Expo’98, which ended a long recession for the local hotel industry. It marked the start of a campaign to transform and renovate infrastructures. To a lesser extent, the finale of the European Football Championship 2004 also put the city in a positive light and made it possible to revive efforts. It also brought about the opening of seven new hotels. The convention center, which dates back to 2001, seats 12,000. The Belem cultural center offers seven auditoriums and ten meeting rooms. To this may be added prestigious sites that may be used for private events. Some of these benefit from particular renown: Fado, SaintGeorge’s Castle, and the Beato Convent... But the city wants to grow its capacity even further with a new convention center. It also wants to develop a supply that is fully integrated within the Lisboa International Fair and the Atlantic Pavilion, two vast spaces for events that have fully justified themselves. All these infrastructures will make it possible to easily host events with over 15,000 participants...Such potential must go hand in hand with a hotel supply that is up to par. And it is. Lisbon already has a supply of upscale properties, as well as luxury ones with its celebrated palaces: first of all the sumptuous Pestana (see zoom p. 88), the Carlton, the Altis, Le Méridien Park Atlantic, the Ritz Quatre Saisons, the Don Pedro... not to mention properties belonging to the brands Sofitel, Sheraton and Marriott.In all: 89 hotels, 12 of which fall into the 5* category, 46 in 4*, 26 in 3* and 5 in 2*... Considering the average occupancy rate that rises continuously (63% in 2006) and the improvement of infrastructures (expansion of the international airport in 2010, highspeed train connection to different key cities in 2015, a second airport by 2017...), a plan to develop new rooms is under way. Already in 2007 alone, a dozen new hotels have opened including the Quinta Besaude (260 rooms), the Quality Green Plazza (108 rooms), the Hotel Junqueira (200 rooms), the VIP Grand (295 rooms), as well as an Ibis and an Etap Hotel with 250 and 150 rooms respectively. The movement is not ready to slow down with different projects in the pipeline in the coming years, starting with the Holiday Inn Prior Velho next year (119 rooms) and, still in 2008, the arrival of two new 5-star hotels – the CS Barata Salgueiro and the CS Governador- as well as a new 4*, the Real Sao Pedro in Alcantara.The capital of Portugal wanted to modernize its image. And it fully succeeded. Today it has its sights set high and in the distance. A shopping, amusement, culture and business center, it plans to become a main destination in the European Union by 2020, and it isn’t ready to slow its efforts to tempt developers.

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