The star-shaped walls of the hilltop town of Elvas dominate the plains of Portugal’s southern Alentejo region near the border with Spain.
However, despite being declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2012, Elvas receives few visitors aside from the occasional Spanish day-tripper.
To try to change this, Portugal’s second-largest hotel group, Vila Gale SA, is spending about 5 million euros (US$6.2 million) to convert a former convent into a luxury hotel. Dozens of builders are working on the 17th-century whitewashed building, last used as a military court, to transform it into an 80-room, four-star hotel that is set to open next year.
“We are convinced that with a quality hotel, tourists will stay in Elvas,” said Jorge Rebelo de Almeida, the president of Vila Gale, which was awarded a 40-year lease to operate the state-owned building.
Tourism has become a key driver of Portugal’s economy since 2014, when the country exited a three-year 78 billion euro international bailout that imposed harsh austerity measures on its citizens.
Now, to attract visitors to places not currently on their radar, and help ensure a constant year-round flow of tourists, Portugal’s socialist government is leasing abandoned monasteries, forts and other historic sites to private groups to be turned into hotels and other leisure centers.
The building is one of 33 abandoned historical sites the government is offering to lease for up to 50 years under a program dubbed “Revive.”
Among the other available sites is a fort in the northwestern town of Caminha that has one of only three wells in the world located at sea. Another is a sanctuary in Cape Espichel near Lisbon where according to legend there was once an apparition of the Virgin Mary.
“I am convinced that the future of tourism involves hotels with a differentiated offering,” added Rebelo de Almeida, whose company last year posted revenue of 173 million euros, a 13 percent jump over 2016 as it benefited from Portugal’s tourism boom.
Tourism accounts for 12.5 percent of the country’s economic output and has been growing steadily since 2011, with British, German and French nationals accounting for nearly half of all foreign visitors.
However, most tourists from abroad head to the sandy beaches of the Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region; the capital, Lisbon, with its wealth of historical monuments; and the northern Porto region, with its nearby terraced hillside vineyards that overlook the Douro River.
Arrivals are concentrated in late spring, summer and autumn, with tourism activity slumping in winter.
“We want to get away from these traditional destinations,” Portuguese Secretary of State for Tourism Ana Mendes Godinho said, adding that the government wanted to “extend this activity throughout the entire year.”
Portugal welcomed a record 18.2 million foreign tourists in 2016 and, while official figures for last year have not yet been published, government and tourism sector officials believe the figure was even higher.
The country has seen a surge in visitors partly due to security concerns in other popular sunshine vacation destinations, such as Egypt and Turkey.
Portuguese hotels last year welcomed 20.6 million guests, an 8.9 percent rise over the previous year, helping the tourism sector create about 53,000 new jobs.
These results show that “the tourism sector can still grow a great deal in Portugal,” Godinho said.
Tourism leaders are optimistic the boom will continue this year.
“With the reservations we already have, we predict this year will be better than 2017,” said Raul Martins, the president of the Portuguese Hotel Association, which represents more than 60 percent of the country’s hotels.
Pestana Group, the country’s biggest hotel group, which runs a chain of luxury hotels in historical buildings known as the Pousadas de Portugal, is equally optimistic.
“Portugal is going through a moment of euphoria,” Pestana chief development officer Jose Roquette said.
The company is this year to expand its hotel in the heart of the walled city of Obidos, which is crammed with whitewashed houses livened up with dashes of vivid yellow and blue paint, more than doubling the number of its rooms from 19 to 47 to meet strong demand.
“Obidos is today known as the little medieval corner of Portugal,” said Nuno Godinho, who manages the hotel. “The efforts to make other cultural destinations in the country have started to pay off.”
Gogoro Inc (睿能創意) yesterday launched its first electric bicycle, the Gogoro Eeyo 1, in Taiwan, after unveiling the bike in New York in late May and in France on Tuesday. The company said it would also introduce the series in other European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands. The “Eeyo project” is the fourth of Gogoro’s eight projects that concentrate on smart transportation, which includes Gogoro’s electric scooter, battery swap system and electric scooter sharing service, company founder and chief executive officer Horace Luke (陸學森) told a media briefing in Taipei. “There are various types of city commuters. We will not
EXPERIMENTAL DRUG: While news about a COVID-19 vaccine is more eye-catching, developing a treatment would be more viable, the Senhwa boss said Senhwa Biosciences Inc (生華科) aims to raise NT$1.5 billion (US$50.57 million) by issuing 15 million new common shares in the third quarter of this year to fund the research of new drugs, including the experimental drug Silmitasertib for the treatment of COVID-19, the company said on Monday. That would be the firm’s largest fundraising effort after it raised more than NT$1.4 billion from an initial public offering on the Taipei Exchange (TPEX) in April 2017, chief financial officer Sarah Chang (張小萍) told the Taipei Times by telephone. The price of the new shares would depend on the firm’s average share price
NOT A PANACEA: Offering 5G services would not solve the problem of declining telecom incomes, chairman Sheih Chi-mau said, expecting a flat 5G telecom revenue Chunghwa Telecom Co (中華電信) yesterday became the nation’s first telecom to debut its 5G services, offering tiered tariffs that include a threshold of NT$599 and flat rates, as it aims to switch half of its subscribers to the 5G network within three years. Subscribers would have unlimited data transmission for monthly fees starting at NT$1,399 — the same flat rate as when the company launched its 4G service in 2014 — and they can subscribe to the highest-rate plan for NT$2,699 per month for faster data transmission speeds and larger bandwidth, the company said. Data transmission speeds would be within the range
ROW: A probe would determine if the rights of shareholders who were not allowed to vote yesterday had been violated, while the stock exchange also wants answers The election of board directors yesterday at Tatung Co (大同) sparked controversy after the company blocked some institutional and individual shareholders from participating in the general shareholders’ meeting, prompting the Financial Supervisory Commission (FSC) to announce that the vote would be investigated. Lin Kuo Wen-yen (林郭文艷) was re-elected as chairwoman of the household-appliance maker’s nine-member board, but prior to the vote she announced that several shareholders would not have voting rights. They were being denied a vote because they had contravened the Business Mergers and Acquisitions Act (企業併購法), and the Act Governing Relations Between the People of the Taiwan Area and