Portugal woos Mideast guests with air link

Lisbon ... Portugal’s culture capital

THE distance between Portugal and the UAE is set to become much shorter when, starting July 9, Emirates Airline launches direct flights from Dubai to Portuguese capital Lisbon, becoming the only carrier based in the Middle East to operate services into Portugal.

Portugal is a well-known tourist destination which attracted 7.4 million tourists in 2011, up from 6.8 million in 2010.  Tourism contributes 9.2 per cent of the country’s GDP and 8.2 per cent of total employment. While the five main markets providing visitors to Portugal are Spain, the UK, Germany, France and Brazil, the Middle East and South Asia, mainly India, too are generating tourist traffic to the country.

In the Gulf, the UAE and Qatar were the main drivers with the UAE providing 1,142 tourists to Portugal in 2009 and 2,045 in 2010. India generated 10,394 tourists in 2009, which increased to 11,069 in 2010.

With the start of the Emirates flight to Lisbon, the number of tourists from the region is expected to go up significantly to more than 100,000.

Besides tourism interests, Portugal holds importance for the UAE in terms of trade relations. Trade between the two countries has been growing during the past few years. While UAE’s total non-oil trade with Portugal was Dh262.05 million ($71.3 million) in 2006, it increased to Dh709.63 million ($193.2 million) in 2011, according to figures received from Dubai Chamber.

“Portugal’s friendly relations with the UAE and other countries in the region are mainly based on our trade ties. The volume of bilateral trade of both countries has continued to witness a recognizable growth in the recent years. There are plenty of opportunities to enhance our current relationship for mutual benefit, which I am sure will be better utilized with the launch of the direct air link,” said Cecília Meireles Portugal’s Minister of Tourism.

“Portugal is a tourist’s delight with its history and cultural elements. It is also fully equipped to meet the requirements of visitors, be it retail, transport or accommodation. Lisbon, the capital city of Portugal, is also one of its main tourist destinations. With the start of the direct flight, we are expecting a massive increase in visitor numbers to Portugal from this region,” said the president of Tourism of Portugal, Frederico Costa.

Lisbon, situated in the south west tip of Europe, is a cosmopolitan capital city with vast cultural offerings and regular events throughout the year. It is the country’s largest city and home to one of the most important harbours in Europe. It attracts tourists mainly because of its history, which stretches thousands of years and immortalized through its monuments, ranging from Roman, Moorish and Imperial Lisbon. A host of accommodation is available in Lisbon, ranging from five-star hotels in the city centre to beautifully decorated pousadas on the outskirts.

Elsewhere in Portugal, visitors can enjoy the fabulous coastline with a host of picturesque beaches and attractive resorts. Estoril, near Lisbon is an upmarket coastal resort which is very popular because of its excellent public transport links. Complemented by its warm climate, Estoril has also emerged as a key golfing destination.

Another interesting location is the town of Sintra. Easily accessible from Lisbon, Sintra is surrounded by rich green forests of pine oak and fern which can be delightfully explored on foot.

Further north, the enchanting hilltop town of Obidos with its pretty white-washed houses enclosed in 14th century castle walls is well worth a visit. It offers picture-postcard views of the castle that dominates the town.