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April 2011Conference+Meetings World www.c-mw.net25Often seen as a 'jolly' haven, the Algarve's meetings industry is working hard to prove its meetingsand improve its incentives credentials.Sarah O'Donnellpacks her iPad, bucket, spade and golfing kit. The Algarve, the incentive ofmeetingsThe Algarve, the picture perfectpostcard beachside destination.Boasting over 300 days of sunshineannually and 200km of coastline with 100named beaches, the region is thesouthernmost region of mainland Portugaland is proud of figures showing 90 per centof its economy is based on tourism, businessand leisure. Algarve's hotels, conventionbureau, DMCs and professional conferenceorganisers work hard to ensure repeatbusiness. Portugal ranks 10th in the 2009International Congress and ConventionAssociation (ICCA) European rankings and17th worldwide. The country held 168qualifying meetings in 2009. In 2008, thecountry only ranked 15th with slightly moremeetings, 177. Currently, the Algarve boasts 126 meetingvenues, 94,710 bedrooms, 38 golf courses.Its meetings industry generated ?519m(US$722m) last year. As of March 2011, the Algarve saw thecompletion of the region's largest congresscentre and hotel, the five-star CS SalgadosGolf and Beach Hotel. It contains a 1,650-seat auditorium, open plan room with1,000sqm of meeting and event space and37 multi-functional rooms. It also includesfour simultaneous translation booths and228 bedrooms. Although the Algarve has increased itsmeetings infrastructure supply in recentyears with costly developments such as theArade Congress Center and an abundanceof new hotels with large meetings spaces,the majority of the country's meetings andconferences are held in Lisbon. "The Algarve has invested a great deal inthe last three years to change the perceptionof the destination," says professionalconference organiser (PCO) and ExecutiveDirector of CPL Events, Linda Pereira. "It does have regions which excel at thefun-loving element but there is also much ofthe Algarve that is focused on business andhigher end clients such as the corporatesector. It has long been one of the mostpopular destinations not only for Portuguesecorporates but also Spanish and many UKand Italian clients," she adds. "The Algarve is more than just fun andgames," says Portuguese Abreu DestinationManagement Sales and MarketingManager, Christine Silva. "There are manycultural aspects for delegates to explore:from Roman ruins, natural eco systemsembedded in the Algarve hills and naturalREGIONAL FOCUS√čThe Algarve has long made a splash for incentives, now the serious business startsThe Algarve by numbers:4,0003001,0001161m89%The size in squaremetres of the multi-purpose PortimaoArena, available formeetings,conferences andexhibitionsThe averagenumber of days ofsunshinea yearThe seatingcapacityof theAlgarve CongressCentre in Parchal,the region's firststand-aloneconference centre. It also has another1,000sqm ofexhibition spaceNumber of marinas,which also hostmeetings space.These include theVilamoura,Albufeira, Lagoaand Vila Real deSanto Antonio Number ofMichelin starsawarded to theregion'srestaurantsNumber of roundsof golf playinginall golf courses inthe AlgarvePercentage ofmeetings facilitiesin the region inhotels Conference+Meetings WorldApril 2011REGIONAL FOCUSreserves, which are home to many speciesof migrating birds and rare marine life."Silva says what appeals the most toassociations and corporates are the outdoorpossibilities. "Corporates tend to spend a lotof time indoors in the office and in meetingsand the Algarve gives them the opportunityto combine meetings with a good soak inthe sun. Business must be accompaniedwith a little bit of quality pleasure."For the Director of Hi 2 Events, ElaineVandelli, a destination being seen as 'fun'can be an advantage. "Often business isgenerated more easily in an attractive 'fun-loving' destination with delegates andorganisers wanting to go somewhere withthat element of fun. Delegates also feelvalued in a relaxed environment." Hi 2 Events is a UK-based PCO whoorganised product launches, conference andstaff incentives with a particular focus onPortugal. Recently, Vandelli held a three-dayconference and incentive for 300 delegatesin the Algarve. "After a refreshing drink onarrival at the hotel the delegates were freeto explore the area for the rest of the daybefore meeting again for a four-coursedinner, where all delegates got to knoweach other more," she says. "The followingday the conference took place in themorning with the afternoon free for golf,boat trips, beach incentives and shopping."A three-hour boat trip was arranged for half of the delegates in theafternoon, sailing along the coast. Whilegolf was arranged for another 50 andthe rest fought it out in a teambuildingactivity on the beach.The client and MD of UK-based AmberValley Developments, Dave Morewood,said: "I would have no hesitation inrepeating this event as it was so well-organised and received by all our staff andsome of our international customers whoalso attended."Vandelli says the region appeals tocorporates because of the prestigeassociated with hosting an event there."The client is able to offer a varied itineraryto impress new and existing customers."The MD of Portuguese destinationmanagement company, DPI meetings andIncentives, Frederico Nogueira, says thePortuguese never say 'No' and the endresult is an unforgettable event. "All yeararound the mild climate allows organisersto make the most of the outdoor facilitiesavailable in the region."As with all destinations, there has to be adrawback. Vandelli says flights can bedifficult if the company concerned has staffand customers nationwide. Otherwise, sheadds, hosting an event in the Algarve is nomore difficult than arranging transport toLondon from the UK provinces. Nogueia agrees: "Direct flight connectionsto the Algarve are not the same as the mainEuropean conference destinations such asLisbon, Madrid and Barcelona."A meetings consortiumLast year a group of five-star hotels inVilamoura joined together to create theVilamoura Meetings brand to promotethe destination for meetings andconferences. Between them, the grouphas 1,300 bedrooms, 12 restaurants, 22 meeting rooms and a conferencecentre for 1,300 delegates. The Hilton Vilamoura, the Lake SpaResort, Tivoli Victoria and Tivoli MarinaVilamoura created the partner offering toattract national and international organisers.However, MICE Product Manager for theAlgarve Promotion Bureau, Elia Freitas saysit has yet to be the powerful marketing forceit initially aimed to be. The Lake Spa Resort's CommunicationsManager, Sofia Moreia, says theVilamoura is perceived as a multi-targetdestination with wellbeing, watersportsand golf facilities being offered alongsidehigh-quality meetings facilities. Recently,the resort hosted the exclusive launch ofa BMW motorcycle model. "Far from thehustle and bustle of the summer months,there is a calm side to the Algarve, idealfor concentration and for hotel meetingsand events."Pereira says the region is becoming morepopular for corporates, especially from thebanking, insurance and pharmaceuticalsectors. She notes, however, that it is still asmall event market and on average theevent she holds in the Algarve range from50 to 200 delegates.She would place the region on par withmeetings destinations such as Cyprus, Italy,Turkey and Greece in terms of quality, butsays its lack of meeting space for over 500does reduce its chances of hostingassociation conferences. The Algarve also appeals to thosecompanies and associations with a tightbudget in mind. Unlike its neighbouringSpain and its associated island destinations,the Algarve is said to be still one of the mostinexpensive regions in Western Europe andcan offer outdoor activities and meetingstays for less. "Even if your budget is small, it doesn'tmean you have to compromise on qualityfor any aspect of your conference, fromaccommodation and room hire to thelatest technology and food and drink,"says Freitas. "And because we have mildwinters and warm shoulder seasons, hotelsshould be able to offer even better dealsfor conference delegates at off-peakholiday times."Paris Tourist Office / Jacques Lebar. Algarve is derived from the Arabicterm Al Gharb meaning 'The West'. Closest airport: Faro, access to 102routes on 46 airlines. Most Europeancities can be reached within two hours. An average seven million foreigntourists (business and leisure) visit theregion per year. Known for its golf and incentivefacilities, mainly during the warmermonths, however, also has mild wintersso good for quieter incentives. Currently has 38 golf courses and 388three- and four-star hotelsKey facts:Work, rest and play are all on the Algarve agenda, not least due to the mild climate