– CARRIE-MARIE BRATLEY
The restoration of fire-destroyed hiking routes and new campaigns to attract more tourists are two priority measures to be implemented in the Algarve municipality of Monchique. The main aim is to help the region recover after the massive fires earlier this month, as local artisans and small businesses appeal for visitors to keep coming, and support the area and fire victims with much-needed income.
Post-fire plans drawn up to boost Monchique tourism as locals urge people to keep visiting
Portugal’s Tourism State Secretary, Ana Mendes Godinho, has said that a number of plans are in the pipeline to boost the dynamics of Monchique’s tourism.
A programme designed to help central Portugal recover from last year’s catastrophic fires, which sees the government contribute €22 for every person who stays in hotels in the region, is also being rolled out to Monchique.
Ana Mendes Godinho said that a series of campaigns is on the drawing board to help restore the region’s tourism activity – on the one hand, by recovering affected infrastructure, particularly hiking trails, and, on the other, by attracting more visitors with the staging of events, congresses or company meetings.
“Some trails can be used at this time, others not, and these are the ones we want to ensure are quickly replaced”, said the State Secretary, after a meeting with businessmen from Monchique’s tourism sector last week, which was also attended by the heads of the local council and Algarve tourism board, among others.
The Tourism State Secretary said that the programme that was created for the Central region in the wake of the deadly 2017 fires, in which the national tourist board Turismo de Portugal supports business or event meetings by contributing €22 per night for each person staying in tourist accommodation units in the area, will be extended to Monchique.
According to Ms. Godinho, the measure will “come into force immediately”, and companies can apply to hold events or meetings in the municipality of Monchique, at a time when “there is more difficulty” in re-launching tourism.
After experiencing a flurry of cancellations during the week of the fire, which raged incessantly between 3 and 10 August, Monchique’s hotels “are now resuming their tourist activity”, with occupancy forecasts for the end of August and September looking up.
Meanwhile, local artisans and small business owners, who survive mainly from visitors’ spending, have appealed for people to keep visiting the charred region, after some excursion companies reportedly halted trips up the mountain in the immediate aftermath of the fire.
A number of local artists and craftspeople who live and work in Monchique lost not only their homes, workshops and studios in the fire, but, consequently, also their income, due to the drop in visitors.
Locals took to social media to point out that, while the surrounding countryside may be black and charred, key beauty tourist spots, such as the Caldas springs and Monchique town centre survived the fire unscathed and it is business as usual – albeit slower and quieter than it would usually be at this time of year.
David Thomas, head of the Safe Communities Portugal crime and fire prevention and advice association said: “It is essential to give shops, restaurants and other businesses every support at this time – the best way for recovery”.
Furthermore, a new online platform has been created to channel all relief and rebuilding efforts to one spot.
The Ajuda Monchique website (www.ajudamonchique.com), a citizens’ initiative in collaboration with local services such as the Monchique firefighters, council and social services among others, aims to centralise help for those affected by the fire.
Safe Communities Portugal said: “The centralisation of the various support operations ensures maximum efficiency, whereas the collaboration of citizens ensures not only transparency, but that the citizens of Monchique are given agency and empowered, not patronised, by the help supplied”.
According to the European Forest Fire Information System, the fire at the start of August consumed a total of 27,635 hectares, with the greatest impact in Monchique, where the burned area reached 16,700 hectares, affecting a total of 32 dwellings. The Portuguese Association of Insurers (APS) announced last week that the damages calculated and covered by insurance, following the fire in the Monchique mountain range, exceed two million euros.