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Lisbon outstrips Algarve

The difficulties facing the Algarve tourism industry have been well documented in recent months. While competition from cheaper destinations across the Mediterranean has been a thorn in the region’s side for many years, it now appears it is facing competition for its throne as the country’s top tourist region from an unexpected and unlikely source, with Lisbon hotels raking in almost double their Algarve counterparts according to latest available quarterly figures.

Last year, the economic weight of tourism at hotels in the Portuguese capital was put at 569 million euros, only 11 million euros behind the Algarve.

However, during the first quarter of 2009, the Lisbon and Greater Tagus Valley river hotel industry brought in 92.8 million euros compared with the 51.2 million euros obtained by the industry in the south.

Estimates are that even with the traditional upswing in tourist figures in the Algarve during July and August, Lisbon will still end the year as the country’s most important tourist destination from a financial point of view.

The current global economic crisis has affected Lisbon far less than it has the Algarve, with tourism in the capital often being a mix of business and pleasure and is not limited to seasonal holiday periods alone.

But Lisbon has in recent months also been the recipient of incessant praise from mainstream and travel media across the globe, which has further helped to push up its prominence among discerning tourists.

The New York Times recommended Lisbon as being the second “most interesting place on the planet to visit” behind Laos in December 2007. Lonely Planet, describing the Portuguese capital as a “seductive mermaid”, ranked the city as one of ten cities to visit in 2009, while Yahoo Travel placed Lisbon as third in its top ten of cities to visit last year. highly recommends Lisbon, having found it is one of only ten cities in the world where a night at a five-star hotel still costs less than 100 euros.

For tourists seeking even cheaper accommodation, Lisbon remains a top choice, with Hostelworld saying the world’s top two hostels can be found in the city, with a further three Portuguese hostels listed in their top ten (two in Lisbon and one in Lagos).

Meanwhile, figures for 2008 show that Lisbon and the Algarve were separately roughly responsible for 30 percent of the nation’s tourism, followed by Madeira with a figure of 15 percent.

Overall, the tourism industry represents revenue that annually totals 7.5 billion euros in Portugal, obtained from 13.5 million visitors to the country each year, employing around five percent (320,000 workers) of the country’s working population.

However, the majority of these workers are employed in Lisbon (101,000), followed by the North (84,000) and Central Portugal (61,000).

The Algarve comes a distant fourth, with 33,000 workers looking after guests who spent a total of 14 million nights in the region last year, almost double the 8 million recorded in Lisbon.

The sector currently accounts for 11 percent of Portuguese GDP and is expected to rise to 15 percent by 2015.

However, it is not all bad news for the southern most region of Portugal.

Listing ‘ten alternative signs the recession is over’, the Guardian in its edition on Thursday listed the Algarve’s expected return to popularity amongst British tourists in coming months as one of the “signs” the economy has finally turned the corner.
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