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Lisbon regrets a lack of Asian connections

Written by editor

With over 3.83 million travelers in 2008, Portugal capital city of Lisbon has seen total numbers of arrivals stagnating at the historically high level of 2007.

With over 3.83 million travelers in 2008, Portugal capital city of Lisbon has seen total numbers of arrivals stagnating at the historically high level of 2007. Arrivals were down slightly by 0.1 percent with foreigners continuing to represent 2.88 million arrivals. When compared to 2006, Lisbon city still attracted in 2008 almost 8.5 percent more foreign travelers than two years before. Lisbon success has been built over the last decade on an increasingly trendy image.

“Changes in our image started in 1998 when Lisbon hosted the world expo. We then showed to the world that our city was a blend of traditions with our centuries-old architecture, our culture but also our openness to the rest of the world,” described Miguel Gonzaga, Visitors Bureau Brand manager for Turismo de Lisboa, the city office of tourism. Rising standard of living in the last 15 years has deeply transformed urban life.

Trendy restaurants, bars or clubs, new cultural institutions and an array of design hotels cater today to both locals and tourists. “We know from studies that travelers coming to Lisbon enjoy above all the mix of traditions and innovation, good gastronomy and cultural diversity,” added Gonzaga.

The immediate future looks, however, less simple. “We know that 2009 will not be an easy year. Our ultimate goal is to maintain our number of visitors at 2008 level. But more realistically, we could see a slight drop of 3 percent to 5 percent, which will still put Lisbon among the mot successful cities,” said Paula Oliveira, executive director at Turismo de Lisboa.

According to city tourism executives, the Portuguese capital is likely to enjoy a continuous interest for tourists looking for a city break. “ Lisbon municipality has decided to give us the same amount of money to promote tourism in 2009 as they realize that urban tourism is more resilient than sea and sun tourism. Tourists currently tend to favor shorter holidays over long stays,” added Oliveira.

Culturally, Lisbon opened recently a range of new museums including the Museum of Oriental Art (Museu de Oriente), the Berardo Collection with one of Europe’s bets display of modern and contemporary art as well as the Museum of Neo-realism at Vila Franca de Xira, 20 km away from the city.

Oliveira’s bigger regret is the lack of Asian visitors to Lisbon. There are little indications about the total number of Asians to Lisbon but their number do not exceed 50,000 a year with Japan being the largest market in 2008 with some 34,000 travelers. It is a paradox for a country that maintained a presence in China (Macau), India (Goa) or in Indonesia (Timor and Mollucas) for so long.

Many reasons explain the relatively bad performance in Asian markets. Lisbon is Europe’s most Western city, representing a flying time of 16 hours on average from Asia – compared to 10 to 13 hours for other major European capitals. Despite a budget of €17 million in market incentive measures provided by the office of Tourism of Portugal and ANA, Portugal’s airports authority, the country has failed to welcome any Asian air carriers.

“It represents a major weakness to attract Asian travelers as most of them are forced to transfer via Helsinki or Frankfurt,” said Oliveira.

Aware of missing opportunities in China and India with its huge travelling population, Turismo de Lisboa would like to promote the Iberian Peninsula with Spain. “We know that we will not alone be able to attract Asian travelers. Why not to promote with our Spanish neighbor special tourist circuits for Asians starting in Barcelona or Madrid and finishing in Lisbon?”