Any regular reader of The Portugal News will have noticed that almost every week, a new investment in hotels, tourist development etc is announced.

Back in the 70’s and early 80’s there were five 5-star hotels in the Algarve. They called themselves the five sisters. Hotel Dona Filipa in Vale do Lobo, Hotel Balia just outside Albufeira, Hotel Algarve Praia da Rocha, Hotel Penina near Alvor and Hotel Alvor Praia. Every year one of the five sisters would throw a magnificent party for the trade and the press to celebrate their unique standing in the Algarve.

At the time, and I do stress at the time, the level of service was sometimes a bit short of five stars, they were good, but not of an international luxury and service standard. The Hotel Balia became a Club Med hotel and reduced to three or four stars. The others remained five-star properties.

Major hotel chains arrive in the Algarve

Major investors have become involved in these properties, ownership has changed hands many times. Whatever your views may be of the future of Algarve tourism, it’s obvious that the major players are now investing heavily. The big household names are now present, Hilton, Sheraton, Conrad, Marriot, Hyatt, Meliá Hotels & Resorts, Wyndham Grand and newer names like Vila Joya (which boasts a Two Michelin Star Restaurant), Vilalara, and the now massive Portuguese chain Pestana.

All of these companies have identified Portugal, and especially the Algarve, as a major tourism growth area. The growth started slowly in the 90’s but in the last ten years investment has rocketed.

According to reports from Lodging Economics who study the ‘pipeline’ of construction projects in the hotel industry, Portugal comes fourth in the volume of hotel construction projects. “Leading countries in Europe’s construction pipeline are the United Kingdom with 335 projects/52,086 rooms, Germany with 271 projects/48,883 rooms, France with 156 projects/18,680 rooms, Portugal with 120 projects/14,521 rooms”.

That’s another 14,521 rooms in the planning and construction stage, in addition to the already existing hotels. Looking at the third quarter of 2021 little changes. Lisbon has 35 projects/4,120 rooms. In 2022, another 11 hotels with 1,980 rooms will open their doors. A further seven are due for completion in 2023, another eight are due to open in 2024 and beyond.

Four and five star properties

Of Portugal’s 42 pipeline projects, just under 75 percent will be in the four-star category. The others will be in the five-star luxury segment. The Portuguese government operates an initiative, the Revive program, offering public properties available for private investment with a focus on hospitality. At the last count there was a list of fifteen ‘historic’ sites or buildings to be redeveloped into tourist accommodation. These included palaces, fortresses, monasteries, even an old infantry barracks.

Minister of the economy, Manuel Caldeira Cabral recently published a plan for Portugal’s tourism development through to 2027 ‘Leading the Tourism of the future’. He stated, “Leading the tourism of the future therefore involves affirming Portugal’s place as a sustainable destination with a cohesive territory, innovative and competitive, a country that values work and talent. A destination for visiting, investing in, living in and studying in. An inclusive, open and technological country that has positioned itself as a specialised hub for tourism”.

Official support at all levels

Whatever level you look at tourism, from the point of view of major investors, local government or the national government, everybody is ‘singing from the same song sheet’. A continued strong growth of the tourism market is the major target.

The reasons are obvious, Portugal has a unique ‘offer’ for visitors. It’s a small country with a big heart. Visitors get a genuine welcome, usually not just an artificial smile. English is spoken everywhere, not just in hotels and other venues, but also in the local shops, taxis, restaurants and cafes (just as well for the English).

Portugal wins more tourism ‘Oscars’

You may view awards with an amount of scepticism, but The World Travel Awards, also known as the “Oscars of Tourism”, are a reliable guide. The awards distinguish the best examples of good practices in tourism, on a global scale, since 1993. Voting is carried out by the public and more than 200 thousand professionals in the sector, from 160 countries. Last year more than two million votes were counted, thus breaking the last record of 1,945,965 votes.

The Algarve was voted as Europe’s best beach destination. Madeira won Europe’s best island destination. Lisbon won 13 awards at the World Travel Awards, including Best City Break Destination in the world over the last four years. Portugal was distinguished with ten, among them the Best European Destination in 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Sadly, after four consecutive years, Portugal did lose the position of Best Destination in Europe to Greece. There are always next year’s awards!

At the Worlds Golf Awards (held in Spain), Portugal has won the category of the ‘World’s Best Golf Destination,’ for the fifth consecutive year, beating off the challenges from Spain, Abu Dhabi, South Africa, Argentina, the United States, New Zealand, the Dominican Republic and Vietnam.

From five to fifty

Algarve started the post revolution period with just five 5-star hotels and resorts. At the last count (source, there are now over fifty, and more are in planning or construction stages.

Be thankful that Portugal and the Algarve are staying on target for the luxury end of the market. Quality not quantity. It looks like nothing is going to stop tourism, but at least we will get the cream of the tourism market.


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. 

Paul Luckman