Led by Harry Chandler and his wife Rene they had seen the potential of the Algarve as soon as the new airport opened and had flights in operation within weeks. Others followed, but they led the way.
How did they spot the potential of the then virtually unknown Algarve? Christmas Eve 1960 and Harry and Rene had a party at their home, one of the guests was a Vic Cowing. He had recently sold out a small ironmonger business he had inherited from his father. He told them he planned to emigrate to a place called the Algarve. Christmas day he came back to see Harry and Rene and told them he had bought a piece of land there and was going to build some villas. Rene was enthusiastic but Harry said he had no interest as the nearest airport was in Lisbon and you had to take a train to the South. The piece of land was in Alcantarilha and, for 5,000 pounds sterling, Rene bought the top of the hill and a villa to be built. Yes, 5,000 pounds for the plot and the villa, property and land was cheaper then.
Rene described the Algarve as ‘just like Ireland, but with sunshine’. Harry remained unmoved and when Rene told him in 1963 that there was an airport being built in Faro, due to be opened in 1965. Harry responded ‘You can tell that to the marines, airports are never built in time’ but it was, and opened, on time, in 1965.
Then Harry, a brilliant marketing and tourism man moved fast. He quickly obtained a share with the Lord Brothers of a BAC 1-11 to fly regular charters to Faro and started looking for potential accommodation for his passengers.
Algarve – Europe’s best kept secret
Harry’s marketing mind quickly created a phrase we don’t hear so much these days, for obvious reasons, but the Algarve really was Europe’s best kept secret at the time. It didn’t stay secret, Harry had plans.
Harry quickly set up a press visit, probably unlike any other (see photo). Travel journalist were expecting to be picked up in Mercedes, but no, Harry had them all picked up in donkey carts. They were far from pleased as they were transferred to the Hotel Eva but cheered by the people that lined the roads and threw flowers. Coincidence, I doubt it, Harry must have set it all up. I don’t think he left anything to chance, who provided the flowers and told people when to be there?
Problem number one - Finding accommodation
Harry was only interested in the area from Faro to Sagres, the only recently built hotel at the time was the Hotel Garbe, owned by Dr Oliveira do Santos and he didn’t want anything to do with travel agents. The Hotel Eva in Faro was under construction, and there was the Hotel Bela Vista in Praia da Rocha, a large private house that accommodated visitors.
Not a lot of choice, so Harry discovered Aldeia Touristica near Albufeira. It was a recently built holiday village with villas and a small bar. It was then owned by Sidney de Haan, the founder of Saga Holidays. In 1966 de Haan was also building a hotel there, but explained to Harry that nobody visited in the winter. They quickly struck a deal of five pounds (sterling) per person per week including maid service. Harry quickly started to bring winter visitors.
On board catering was smoked salmon and steak
Along with the Lord Brothers they chartered a BAC 1-11 for the winter of 1966/1967 but the Lord Brothers pulled out and Harry had to go it alone, and he did. Winter business had arrived in the Algarve, albeit small. Harry recalled when we put the first charter flights into the Algarve in 1966, we served smoked salmon and steak on board.
To realise how far we have come since the early days of travel, freedom of the skies etc, bear in mind that in 1966 there was a law called ‘Provision One’, you weren’t permitted to sell a package holiday at less than the cost of a normal (scheduled) return air fare. The state-owned airlines didn’t want businessmen using a package holiday to get a cheaper air ticket.
By this time Harry had become Chairman of the influential Tour Operator Study Group, and in 1971 the CAA relaxed this rule but only for winter travel.
A pioneer in so many ways
Harry’s son Paul told travel writer Simon Calder that being so early into the Algarve market led to some challenges. “We were the first to do car hire in the Algarve, and people would ask, ‘What sort of car is it, because I can only drive a Ford?’.
“Harry was first in so many things, he also offered reassurance to British travellers in the form of the holiday rep, all in the Travel Club of Upminster blue uniforms”.
The Chandlers were founder members of what would become the Federation of Tour Operators (FTO), later merging into ABTA, with Harry taking the role of Chairman of the Tour Operators’ Council, and Rene holding a place on the Convention Committee.
They were jointly honoured in the 1996 British Travel & Hospitality Hall of Fame, with Harry Chandler being awarded posthumously.
The Portuguese government awarded Harry and Rene a medal for their services to tourism in Portugal. It was awarded to them by the Portuguese Ambassador in London in 1981, during the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Portuguese National Tourist Office in London.
Harry and Rene were clearly visionaries, and the Algarve was launched onto the travel scene by them. That was an amazing achievement. Needless to say, as the industry grew, and big players came onto the market with a massive buying and marketing power the smaller personal travel companies got pushed out. The Travel Club Upminster ceased trading in 2010.
I would like to thank Harry and Rene’s son Paul, who still spends much of his time in the Algarve. There is an excellent book if you would like to more, and there is a lot to know, search for ‘Chandlers Travels’ by travel writer John Carter. Although it’s out of print, second-hand copies are easy to find online.
Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy.