We often read in the brochures published to promote tourism development projects that the Algarve is a region with over 300 days of sun each year and endless expanses of beaches. But is that the idea the rest of Europe has of us? Are we the Caribbean of Europe?
If we carried out a ‘top of mind’ survey across Europe, asking which three key ideas come up when thinking about the Algarve, would sun and sea top the list or would there be a surprise?
We very often set about building a brand leveraged on certain concepts, even while others escape this construction and grow in the minds of visitors on an informal basis. Despite being bound as well as far more intimately interconnected with the experience at the location, the news conveyed by the media or social networks overwhelm the messages given off by those working the brand. This then requires understanding just how Europe perceives us as a tourism destination and what potential this vision might hold for developing the region.
In an era when we are living in a new nomadism and where tourists overlap with ‘city users’, it is worth questioning the market and sounding out the future. Some defend how the Algarve might turn into a new pole of attraction for digital nomads. This might be a reality or no more than a mere desire to encounter new paths for the positioning of the region in international markets. Studies show that, on one hand, the Algarve holds competitive advantages across facets including security, climate, and air quality.
On the other hand, there is still a great deal to be done as regards fostering start-ups, establishing efficient ICT (the information and communication technologies) networks or even on questions that at first sight might appear more simple such as access to a broadband Internet service. Just how might we ever be competitive when the statistics demonstrate how the majority of the adults in the Algarve region experience significant difficulties in basic competencies in terms of literacy, maths, and digital environment and are unprepared for the modern information and knowledge society!
In the 2000s, Crispin Raymond and Greg Richards developed the concept of creative tourism, defining this as: “Tourism which offers visitors the opportunity to develop their creative potential through active participation in learning experiences which are characteristic of the holiday destination where they are undertaken”. Around two decades later, many destinations have invested in the cultural and creative industries as drivers of tourism which, in turn, has led to the growth and maturity of the relationship between creativity and tourism.
From promoting tangible heritage, this evolved to nurture intangible heritage and the concept of cultural tourism became shorthand for the potential of the cultural and creative industries. According to Greg Richards, creative tourism has now evolved to become an area of convergence for different areas of development policies and focused not only on the growth in tourism numbers but also how tourism may contribute to nurturing the creativity whether of the tourists or the local population. Does this account for a new type of export? And in the Algarve? On this route towards the convergence between tourism and the cultural and creative industries, what stage is this region at?
Much has already been done. Initiatives such as Loulé Creative deserve praise… but the truth remains creative tourism is still not one of the region’s key selling points.