Tourists from the United States have finally discovered Portugal, and the Algarve is no exception
Americans’ growing interest in the Algarve, in terms of residents, business owners and general visitors is a topic worthy of exploration. For many Brits and Europeans, the region’s appeal seems obvious but for many Americans making that first voyage of reverse discovery, the Algarve and Portugal in general is somewhat uncharted territory. American overseas travellers are familiar with France, Italy and Spain but not Portugal, and can mistakenly believe it to be part of Spain.
Unsure of the facts, it was time to consult with the experts, and there is nobody better qualified to comment on this subject than travel expert Sheree Mitchell, of Immersa Global. Sheree, a Miami native who relocated to Lisbon a few years ago, runs a high-end tour company catering to mainly American visitors and regularly speaks at tourism conferences around the world, including the New York Times Travel Show.
Sheree cites a number of factors for the growing number of US visitors to Portugal and the Algarve. One major impact is the new airline routes that have opened up in the States, direct to Lisbon. In the last four years, TAP Air Portugal have had direct flights out of New York and Boston, recently adding Chicago and Washington DC to the list. Likewise, American Airlines and Delta have new routes to Portugal. Another significant ‘selling’ point for the country is the security concerns of many Americans, with Portugal rated the third most peaceful country in the world.
The ‘bottom line’ also contributes to the attraction, with Portugal in general being 25% cheaper for a tourist than Spain, France and Italy. Other notable benefits for US visitors, is that English is widely spoken and the country is very family friendly, and there is still a sense of exclusivity to the country. Finally, it is the hospitability, fine cuisine and culture that is the top draw to Portugal. In 2017 nearly 170,000 US citizens spent at least one night in the Algarve, and the 2018 that figure was closer to 240,000.
In terms of where Americans stay and what they are looking for in accommodation, Essential Algarve asked Katharina Schlaipfer, general manager of Conrad Algarve, and Rita Gonçalves, head of PR and Communications at Vila Vita Parc, a few questions. When asked if they had seen an increase in American guests at their hotels, both replied affirmatively, with the American market ranking in third place for the two hotels over the last year. Rita also noted that first-time visitors from the US tend to do location packages, which may include Lisbon and Spain, while returning guests often choose to remain at the resort for their vacation.
As for what Americans are looking for in terms choosing their holiday destination, Katharina states: “The mind-set of affluent US travellers is different from the Europeans. The annual holiday period is shorter in the US, so they seek more intense and immersive experiences, combining destinations, always with a clear focus on history, culinary heritage, wines, and high-quality service. They are loyal to their preferred hotel brand, in our case Hilton Worldwide.”
Vila Vita Parc’s Rita Gonçalves adds: “Our American guests are looking for the strong link to the local culture that can be experienced at the resort. It can be seen through our local pottery, the architecture, the Portuguese brands available at our shops and through the whole gastronomic world that can be experienced at our restaurants.”
But what do the local hotels and resorts, and by extension the Portuguese tourism board, do to actively promote themselves and the Algarve in general to the American market? “The Conrad Algarve is an active member of the Algarve Promotion Bureau and several other national and local entities. This allows us to have updated market intelligence and also to build a commercial strategy focused on our main segments of luxury positioning,” Katharina explains. “Our sales team is constantly traveling to the US for sales calls, presentations and different luxury forums to showcase Conrad Algarve. The feedback of all travel agents is that Portugal is a ‘hot’ destination for American travellers.”
For Rita, it is also about “being part of the leading hotels of the world, in addition to the strong communication activations and sales activities part of the internal strategy”. Rita believes that security plays a part, but notes that there are many more key tourism factors, and Katharina agrees: “Safety, security and language are definitely relevant but there are so many other reasons… In several talks to American guests, they mention the rich history, landscape diversity, of course the amazing gastronomy and wines, value for money, and above all the Portuguese genuine hospitality.”
Essential Algarve also spoke to native New Yorker and now local businesswoman Wanda Crawford, owner of Curiosa Indoor & Outdoor Furniture and founder of children’s charity fund ACCA, about her experience as an American living in the Algarve. For Wanda, it is the healthy lifestyle that really appeals to her, and the fresh produce combined with gorgeous scenery. She has definitely seen an upturn of US clients who are buying property in the Algarve.
“Americans want to see the ‘Old Europe’, but also visit the destinations that everyone is talking about. Portugal fits the bill perfectly,” says Greg Boegner, co-owner of Portugal Confidential Travel. “[They] of course, want to see the sites, such as historic Lisbon, [spend] a day in Sintra, and perhaps side trips to Évora or Óbidos. They are also interested in the key Christian religious sites, such as the Sanctuary of Fátima and the Church of the Holy Miracle in Santarém. Jewish heritage tours are popular, as are urban art tours. In Porto, Americans love the charm of the city, and are keen on wine-tasting excursions in the Douro Valley.”
Header Photo: Vila Vita Parc