Discovering Porto’s Best

by alrou on September 5, 2010

Excitedly, while on a bus tour in Porto (“Oporto”), Rodrigo Pinto Barros pointed twice to the Douro margins and vented: “What is the tourist that doesn’t get touched with this scenery?”. The entrepreneur, shares with his trip buddies the suggestion to replicate the famous Big Apple campaign and adapt it to “I love Porto”.

Suggestions to spur the tourism in the city are abundant between the three invitees of the portuguese newspaper “Expresso”.  Mário Ferreira, owner of the Douro Azul river cruises advocates an autonomous non-institutional initiative and the creation of specific programs for the tourists of the cruises that dock in the Port of Leixões and stay six hours in the city.

Agostinho Barrias, the businessman who recovered the Cafes Majestic and Guarany (two of the oldest cafés in Porto), speaks of the “urgent urban rehabilitation”, of capitalizing on the renown festivities of São João and to captivate new tourist attractions for the Baixa (“downtown”), with a Casino at the top of the investments.

Rodrigo Pinto Barros, the businessman who presides the Portuguese Association of Hotel Management, Restoration and Tourism (APHORT), gives priority to a “great festival of music” and the valuation of the Avenida dos Aliados, near the City Council, as a parlor of the city, welcoming big brand retailors, following a common practice in the major european cities.

“We have quality hotels and gastronomy, Serralves Museum and the Casa da Música concert hall. We have recognized brands, for example  in the wine industry and the Futebol Clube do Porto (“Porto Soccer Club”), not to mention that our hospitality is appreciated by all. The offer is varied, but needs to be promoted in in a structured manner”, says the chairman of the APHORT, owner of the Hotel Praia Golfe.

Porto VIP Passport is complimented by all and taken as an example of structured partnership and with potential of producing more offers. The tourist package launched by the Sociedade de Transportes Colectivos do Porto-STCP (“Society of Public Transports of Porto”)  and Douro Azul, combine tourist bus circuits with cruises in the Douro which lead to the main attractions of Porto: Casa da Música  Concert Hall, Serralves Museum, Sea Life Oceanarium, Calém wine-cellars and museums Soares dos Reis and of the Carro Eléctrico (“Tramway museum”). They total eight experiences in a two-day pass for the very reasonable price of 39 euros. “For this package, you pay the triple in another city. Here in Porto, the relation quality/price is an asset” refers Mário Ferreira.

The price factor gains relevance in times of crisis like the present one. Maybe because of this, Porto as a destination was less hit than the rest of the country, having  topped the national record of the growth in the first quarter (+6.7%) in the number of occupied rooms.   “The tourists look for the best value for the money” says Mário Ferreira. Its recent performance proves that Porto became trendy and it is believed that the growth curve will maintain. The city gained international notoriety as the European Capital of Culture, definitely opened its doors to tourism with the Euro-2004 event and  takes advantage of the strong presence of the low cost airlines in the Sá Carneiro airport. The low cost traffic accounts for over half of the traffic and in 2010, Ryannair will surpass TAP as the main operator.

History and modernity

The Yellow Bus trip within the old town portrays Porto to the tourists like a meeting place of two cities in which the historical heritage near the Douro river evolved into the modernity of the Boavista that precedes the flow at the river’s mouth into the Atlantic Ocean. The bus wriggles its way downtown and allows Agostinho Barrias, owner of three residential hotels, to identify a potential hotel in every corner. The transformation of the ancient Palácio das Cardosas (“Cardosas Palace”) into a unit of the Intercontinental Group marks a new cycle, with the entry of international luxury brands in the heart of the city.

Between the Lello bookstore and the Torre dos Clérigos (“Tower of the Clergy”), there appears a degraded spot which is the Praça de Lisboa (“Lisbon square”). The former commercial gallery gave place to a dirty and degraded square with no solution in sight. But the tourists prefer to turn their cameras to the tram parked near the university’s rectorate. “These are the things that the tourists appreciate, we must preserve tradition”, comments Mário Ferreira.

As we move onward the gardens of the ancient Palácio de Cristal (“Crystal Palace”), the dialogue changes its course. The project of transforming the pavilion into a congress center leaves the hotel industry enthusiastic. The city suffers with the lack of a venue to compete for the major world-wide congresses and to introduce a new market segment. Porto has been gradually replacing the business tourism for that of leisure – the summer vacations of August and also the Easter holidays are the periods with the biggest occupation rate.  “The city has appeal and also hotel capacity to become competitive in the market segment of congresses”, says Rodrigo Pinto Barros. He goes further by invoking festivals like the Red Bull air race, proposing Porto “as a city of the events”.

The trip continues by the Casa da Música Concert hall and the Serralves museum, the two main symbols in the cultural scene.

The creation of the Jardim da Música (“Garden of Music”), replacing the Rotunda da Boavista (“Boavista rotary”), will reinforce this new role of a city opened to the sea. In the river’s mouth, the tourists stand up and glaze over to the Atlantic Ocean. The malls are abundant and welcoming , thus inviting for a pause. What is needed in the sea front strip  is a hotel, but the prices of the terrains are deterrents to any investment. As Agostinho Barrias would say, “the market will have to have a major expansion to make this adventure feasible”.

The best view of Porto, from the margins of the neighboring city of Gaia, is reserved as the final part of the circuit. The bus traverses the Douro River for the final leg. The passengers express loose phrases of charm and fascination, while their cameras capture every detail. A Basque architect who fitted in the tourist circuit between business meetings finishes off:  “Look at this beauty. The best part was really reserved for the end”.

(translated by under permission of the author, Abílio Ferreira )


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