So how does a tour operator create a new programme and transform the image of a destination? Well, it takes a long time, needs a lot of passion and a Tourism Promotion Board which fervently believes in the project and is willing to spend some money.
I’ve spent 4 days in the Algarve – an area of Portugal that Sunvil has not shown any interest in for the last 30 years because of its image – in the company of our local agent and our PR agency. I had not been to the Algarve since the mid-1980s and was expecting the region to have changed but the change was much gereater than I ever imagined. For our purposes, the stretch between Faro and Lagos to the west is a no go area at any time of the year. East of Faro and West of Lagos however, are a different matter,
To develop a programme and market it needs a lot of hard work, a combination of talents and, most of all, experience. How I envy these technology companies that simply input hotel details and sit back, never having visited, never having risked anything, never caring a toss for the future of a destination. That is the modern and uncaring approach. Thank goodness our clientele still appreciates the Sunvil approach and professionalism.
Our aim was to put together several itineraries across the Algarve showing the area in a different light and offer the holidays throughout the year. We went in February because we wanted to see if what we were planning would work in the depths of winter. We had one cloudy day and three days of brilliant sunshine with temeparatures at around 18/19 degrees centigrade. The nights were cold – you needed a jumper and scarf. The countryside was green, flowers were out everywhere and there were no crowds – the perfect combination.
From Faro to the Spanish border is the Algarve as it was, traditional fishing villages like Fuseta and Olhao with beachside basic restaurants serving freshly caught fish offshore islands strung along the coast within a few minutes boat ride with fabulous beaches (Ilha de Tavira and Ilha de Armona), the Ria Formosa river estuary, the worlds largest population of sea horses and the fabulous Praia Verde Beach which stretches from the traditional fishing village of Fuseta for 40 kilometres to the Spanish border . Tavira is a very interesting town with an excellent Pousada which Sunvil already features.
Then you have to find the right hotels which are open in winter, not too big, have a mix of nationalities, will go that extra mile, which care for the environment, use local produce, take pride in their cooking, are comfortable, have ideas as to how to add value and are keen to work with an operator like Sunvil. Not many fit the bill unfortunately!
We loved the Vila Monte Farmhouse Hotel in Moncarapacho and its sister hotel the Praia Verde on the coast, currently being refurbished. Above Olaho and overlooking the Ria Formosa is the Casa Modesta with 9 rooms, a family home, converted by a sister who is an architect, managed by one brother, cooking by the grandmother, cakes by the mother, garden looked after by their father and health tips by the physiotherapist bother.
Where the east is traditional and homely, the west is spectacular and imposing, with fabulous Atlantic beaches, dramatic sea cliffs and several excellent properties. The Quinta Bonita above Lagos with 8 rooms we have featured for many years and a better ambassador for the area you could not have. The Vivenda Miranda with 25 rooms overlooking the Praia at Porto de Mos one of the most exciting hotels any of us has seen for a long time. Then right on the Atlantic coast one of the bravest ventures in Portugal at Pedralva, where Antonio Ferreira has rejuvenated the village and given life to the area. A fantastic base for walkers, for bird watchers and for getting away from everything.
I now wonder why we have ignored this area of Portugal for so long and I am very excited by the thought that we will be part of the initiative to show the ‘real’ Algarve and the fact it’s a year round possibility.