Tourism is “doing well” its role in combating depopulation, said the president of Turismo Centro, Pedro Machado, who predicts that “the luxury of the 21st century will be the Interior of Portugal.”
The leader of the Regional Entity that groups a hundred municipalities of the Center of the country, many of them located in territories of low density, considers that the Interior has exclusive values that assure its future like tourist destiny of exception, able to attract visitors of all the world.
“The best part of the best destination in the world is the interior of the country,” says Pedro Machado, referring to the fact that Portugal was chosen this week for the second consecutive year as the “best tourist destination in the world”, according to the World Travel Awards.
In 2017, the country even beat the record of visitors, hosting more than 24 million tourists and growing around 12% a year. The Central region contributed significantly to this feat, which shows growth levels above the national average.
Pedro Machado considers that the interior of the country, especially the Centro area, is a valuable tourist product with a lot of future since it is far from exhausting the wide range of its offer. And not even the fires of 2017, which devastated the region leaving a trail of destruction and death, and tropical storm Leslie, which has caused millions of euros of damage, overshadow the growth potential of the Interior.
The head of Turismo Centro guarantees that the tourism sector has been instrumental in stopping the advance of desertification, attracting visitors, skilled workers and residents to low-density areas, who face difficult problems related to the ageing of populations.
In recent years, large hotel units, designated as “Destination Hotels”, based on very competitive business models, have been established in some areas of the interior of the country centre, and in some cases have more or more notoriety in the markets than the region itself.
This is the case of Hotel H2O, located in the village of Unhais da Serra, at the base of the southwest slope of Serra da Estrela, in a glacier valley and at an altitude of 750 meters. The hotel unit brought new life and animation to the small town of 1,300 inhabitants, attracting tourists, especially foreigners, and attracting and qualifying labour.
Another good example of a unit whose opening and operation had a significant impact is that of Casas do Côro, in the historic village of Marialva, Mêda, Guarda district. This hotel not only relocated Marialva on the tourist map, bringing visitors and animation but also formed over 15 years dozens of people.
Another decisive factor in the fight against depopulation has been the dozens of tourist animation companies born in recent years in the centre of the country.
Led almost always by young people, who settled in the Interior, these companies dedicate themselves to the so-called active and sports tourism. Its activities include cycling, hiking, mountain biking, rafting and even roller carts, such as a company that settled in the shale village of the Monastery in Pedrógão Grande.
“The best routes for this type of activity are in the Interior of the centre of the country,” says Pedro Machado, who highlights the attractiveness that these companies carry on urban youth. “They are new companies, with new business models, leveraged by young people,” says Machado.
The leader of the Tourism Center also highlights the ongoing “structuring of new tourism products” in the centre of the country. This is the case of religious tourism of Jewish roots, in Tomar, Belmonte, Trancoso and other areas of the Serra da Estrela, which attracts people from all over the world interested in the synagogues of the so-called Marrano Jews, and the practice of activities that had to be hidden for centuries.
In Belmonte, for example, there are already kosher hotels, which respect Jewish practices regarding food and accommodation.
There are several market niches with new products, says Machado, recalling the success of the Museum of the Jews and the nearby Museum of Discoveries in Belmonte, the birthplace of the navigator Pedro Álvares Cabral, discoverer of Brazil.
“Tourism is fulfilling at the Center its role in combating desertification and asymmetries. With attitude, new products, new markets, betting on the quality of service and the competitiveness of differentiated products,” summed up the President of Turismo Centro.