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Posted by nelson on August 10, 2017

A decade on from the grey financial crisis and Portugal is unreservedly going places. Lauded and awarded in travel magazines, hotel groups and entrepreneurs have seen the light and are lavishly investing. Projects already in the pipeline promise as many as 8,000 new rooms by 2018, and that’s only the beginning.

Influential weekly Expresso reports that the 83 new hotels due to open by the end of next year will be followed by a host of others in 2019.

The ‘news’ is that these are not simply following in the footsteps of what has come before.

Portugal’s new focus in hospitality is on celebrating its identity – taking crumbling, noble buildings and transforming them into welcoming spaces for the discerning traveller.

Investment too is not just from groups that have been in the game for decades. New concerns like Turim (run by three Portuguese siblings) and My Story Hotels (the brainchild of Portuguese Seaside shoe outlet boss Acácio Teixeira) are making their mark in the capital and beyond.

But perhaps the most remarkable project (so far) is the five-star Hotel Corpo Santo, due to open shortly on the capital’s riverside Cais de Sodré, the property of a “Portuguese family”.

One of what Expresso calls “Lisbon’s best kept secrets”, the €20 million venture centres around “numerous archaeological discoveries”, including 32 metres of 15th century fortified walls (from the era of King Ferdinand).

Says the hotel’s director Pedro Pinto, the concept is to make “part of our history” available to people so that they can “appreciate it and take selfies”.

A case of embracing the new, while holding on to the old.

The ancient walls were discovered as work got underway.

Hotel Corpo Santo – incorporating 79 rooms and suites “distributed over five floors” – has transformed an entire block comprising three separate buildings in the historic centre of the neighbourhood.

Daily rates will be in the region of €250, and bookings are already high.

As Pinto told Expresso, Lisbon is in the grips of “brutal expansion” when it comes to hotels and their prices, so even the 20% annual occupancy rate initially forecast spells good news.

Elsewhere, establishments opening their doors are almost evenly divided between four- and five-star.

2017 is the time for the smaller units, explains hoteliers association boss Cristina Siza Vieira, (bringing with them 3,000 new rooms) while 2018 will see the ‘big guns’ coming on board, supplying another 4,600 rooms.

Considering 2016 saw 33 new hotels open nationally, the sector is literally exploding, creating employment, powering the economy and generally blowing away the negativity of the recent past.

Siza Vieira told Expresso that of the 83 new hotels opening within the next 15 months, “almost 40% are in Lisbon, while 19 are in Porto and the north, 15 in the centre, seven in Madeira and six in the Algarve, where the first stone is about to be laid at the multi-million euro venture Ombria Resort (see box story) and where luxury hotel chain W Hotels & Resorts promises to “redefine the hotel scene” with a 134-room beachside hotel in Albufeira (see story ‘Luxury chain W to open first Algarve hotel in 2018’ at portugalresident.com).

Relative newbies to the scene are national chains Turim and My Story – again very focused on restoring buildings and presenting guests with much more than the traditional concept of a hotel.

My Story Hotels are planning to open four new ventures in Lisbon’s ancient Baixa district over this year and next, involving a global investment of €50 million, while the management is eyeing Madeira, the Algarve “and maybe the Azores, as well as Évora and Coimbra”.

The idea, stressed director Manuel Goes, is “well located buildings that need rehabilitation”.

Elsewhere, entrepreneurs are snapping up ancient palaces and even old hotels that have been shut for years.

The Turim group, headed up by Ricardo, Pedro and Rita Martins is busy transforming the long-abandoned Palácio da Casa da Gandarinha, in Sintra, as well as the former Hotel Santa Maria in Funchal, Madeira.

Along with a venture in Porto due to open in 2019, the group is investing a total of over €70 million and vows it “won’t stop there”.

Big names like Vila Galé, too, are returning to major investment, with emphasis on Portugal’s rural interior, says director Gonçalo Rebelo de Almeida.

The Vila Galé group is currently building six new hotels, in places as diverse as Porto, Sintra, Braga, Elvas and Manteigas, adds Expresso.

Again, at least one of the projects is focused on ‘rehabilitation’, having taken over an ancient convent under the government’s “Revive” programme.

By NATASHA DONN natasha.donn@algarveresident.com

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