Balance and sustainability are challenges for nature tourism in the Algarve

«Algarve + Sustainable» will take place in three phases, over a year, until November 2022

A group of hikers, backpacks on their backs, boots on their feet and sticks in hand, speaking to each other in Dutch, passed by the tent where the presentation of «Algarve + Sustainable», as if setting the tone for the initiative. It was on Friday afternoon, in the small garden by the river, in Aljezur.

As recalled João Fernandes, president of the Algarve Tourism Region (RTA), an entity that, along with Vicentina, the Association for the Development of the Southwest, organizes the first edition of «Algarve + Sustainable», it is «a project of a year that starts here in Aljezur”, bringing together two initiatives, “already with signed credits”, both born in 2014, which are the Nature Tourism Biennial, an initiative of Vicentina, and the Algarve Nature Week, promoted by RTA.

The project, financed under the CRESC Algarve 2020, is developed in three phases, the first of which began this Friday, the 22nd, with thematic walks, and continues until November 26, including training actions.

The second phase will take place in March and April of next year, with the promotion of knowledge workshops, awareness campaigns, nature tourism activities and debate. Finally, the third phase will take place from September to November, and will include promotion, debate and a virtual fair.


Presentation of the initiative, with Aura Fraga speaking – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação


Aura Fraga, president of Vicentina, stressed the importance of «joining two events that already had some impact and visibility in the region», taking into account that the «objectives of both events were complementary».

He also highlighted the "virtuous partnership" between "a local development association, a tourism entity and the municipalities", stressing that "it is very important that this happens".

The president of the Tourism Region also made a point of “thanking the Vicentina and RTA teams for their selflessness in, after years of working on their projects, being able to generate this symbiosis for this joint project”.

João Fernandes added that, nowadays, «all of us are aware of the need to mitigate seasonality, generate new motivations for visits, reduce coastline, bet on sustainability, value endogenous resources». But, he stressed, "now it is necessary to take action."

"We already have a lot of planning for sustainability, we also have, fortunately, in the next community framework, a financial envelope that is very focused on sustainability issues, but then it has to be implemented", in other words, "not just planning", but moving forward with a "one-year action program" such as that proposed by "Algarve + Sustentável".


João Fernandes – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação


The actions will be aimed at “various target audiences”, starting with children. "We are going to take children from the 5th and 6th grades of the municipality of Aljezur to be tourists in their own territory, to be able to experience what those who visit us have the opportunity to do", explained the president of RTA. And this will be done «not only for a learning experience, going to observe dolphins or birds, taking a walk with interpretation of the natural and cultural heritage», but also because these kids «will be the next promoters of the offer».

"In this way, the ability to welcome visitors without feeling this phenomenon as an aggression will naturally be further enriched by this experience."

But all the other residents were not forgotten, for whom «actions of the awareness campaign for respect for environmental issues, for the use of natural spaces are planned».

Another target audience is, of course, tourism agents in the territory, people who actually have or want to have their small businesses linked to nature tourism. "When we address local agents with training workshops on matters such as water efficiency, we have the ability to reach out to the small business owner and work with them, to implement, according to the specifics of their unit, water efficiency, energy efficiency , the improvement of waste management», highlighted João Fernandes.

“Cultural agents” will also be involved, through “workshops for the appreciation and interpretation of heritage aspects and our history”.

But because it is economics that we are talking about in the first place, João Fernandes concluded that there will also be «actions aimed at promoting and marketing», bringing to the Algarve «international operators for familiarization visits», but also promoting «contact times, between the offer, our nature tourism agents and international operators'.

And don't think that these initiatives fell from the sky: "all this is the result of the work of Vicentina and RTA in recent years."


José Apolinário – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação


José Apolinário, president of the Algarve's Regional Coordination and Development Commission (CCDR), began by underlining that this body also has “responsibility for monitoring, promoting and supporting projects that have a regional logic”. Now, he added, "this is a project of concertation and cooperation between different entities, in line with the objective of sustainability."

The director of CCDR Algarve recalled that «tourists, today, value a sustainable destination». In addition, «the choice of tourists, today, with all the alternatives and technologies even for contracting, no longer involves tourism agencies and hotels, but rather local accommodation, leasing for short periods, which lead to places where they otherwise wouldn't go'.

This trend, he stressed, "will force these products [linked to nature and sustainable tourism] to invest in the communication component and to reach the end customer more easily."

José Apolinário also highlighted “the persistent work that Vicentina has done, to create synergies, not to give up, to create innovative projects, in terms of social intervention, but also to bring wealth to the populations”.

And he concluded: «the mobilization of European funds [for the Algarve + Sustainable] is a consequence of being a good project and good projects must be supported».


José Gonçalves – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação


José Gonçalves, mayor of Aljezur, warned of the challenge of finding a balance and defining on the ground what sustainable tourism really is.

He began by recalling that «a few years ago, the Environment was something that only brought us constraints, difficulties. Today we continue to have some constraints, but these territories, these more rural areas, due to their resilience and the need to find ways, were finding solutions, drawing strength from the best we have in the region, nature conservation, its resources, the fauna, the flora, the traditions».

In such a way that, «in the last fifteen years, things have changed a lot», guaranteed the Aljezurense mayor.

Recognizing «the place and role that the environment plays in these territories», José Gonçalves argued that «we must seek balance: there lies the great challenge for everyone!»

“Will we be 100 walking next year or will we be 20? Will we be 100 surfing or 20? What do we want to have? How do you control it?”, he asked, then answered: “we have to balance, where sustainability begins and ends”.

Therefore, according to the mayor, «for territories such as Aljezur, Vila do Bispo, Monchique, Lagos, Lagoa, the Algarve as a whole, this is the challenge that arises».

And this will certainly be an issue that will be on the table throughout the year that this first edition of «Algarve + Sustainable» will last.


Carla Pontes and Gonçalo Pescada – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação


The official presentation of «Algarve + Sustainable», which took place in a tent along the Aljezur river, the market and its bridges, was also attended by the regional directors of Agriculture and the Portuguese Environment Agency, Pedro Valadas Monteiro and Pedro Coelho , respectively, of the vice-rector of the University of Algarve (Alexandra Teodósio), of the mayor of Monchique (Paulo Alves), of the vice-president of the Castro Marim council (Filomena Sintra), of the councilors of Lagos (Sandra Oliveira), Lagoa (Mário Guerreiro) and Aljezur (Fátima Neto and António Carvalho), the General Secretary of Terras do Infante (José Amarelinho), the responsible for Rota Vicentina (Marta Cabral) and Via Algarviana (Anabela Santos), as well as representatives from other associations and entrepreneurs. The session ended with the performance of soprano Carla Pontes and accordionist Gonçalo Pescada, who interpreted themes by Zeca Afonso, Dulce Pontes and Astor Piazzola.


Photos: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação