Interview with João Ministro, Executive Director at Proactivetur

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Who are Proactivetur's key partners and what initiatives are you working on to promote responsible tourism, eco-tourism and creative tourism in the Algarve?

In our small agency, we focus on a tourism offer strongly related to the Algarve territory and people living there. This can be seen not only in our programs and products, but also in special projects we develop in Algarve (for example Projecto TASA www.projectotasa.com - to preserve traditional crafts). As part of our business model we work with more than 100 partners, almost 20 international suppliers (Tour Operators) from which we welcome our clients plus 80 local companies (small rural accommodations, transfer service, restaurants) who are part of our programs. Our international partners are mostly expert agencies in areas including walking, nature and cultural tours, as well as creative experiences, mixing local traditions and outdoor activities. All of them focus on a touristic offer strongly related to nature, culture, people and creativity with a firm commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Many of them have their own sustainability programs which we are part of.

Our local partners are mostly situated in the mountain regions of Algarve, in small rural villages where they help stimulate trade. In our programs we always aim to establish a strong connection with the local communities. A large part of the price of our programs (60-70pc) is directly injected into the local economy. We always look to include local products and local people in our programs in order to give back to these local territories. For example, with our walking tours we use local accommodation exclusively in the villages where the trails are. We integrate craft workshops into our tourism programs so tourists can experience a genuine moment with a local person. Finally, we are partner with local organisations who support the maintenance and preservation of local resources, namely Almargem or Rota Vicentina. We support them and their mission. We are also a co-funder of a local development cooperative for the inland regions called QRER (www.qrer.eu) with a mission to support sustainable development for inland regions of Algarve.

What in your view are the Algarve's greatest assets and can more be done to embrace the local culture and engage local communities?

Algarve is one of the richest regions in Portugal in terms of biodiversity and culture (including crafts, gastronomy). It has a diverse landscape and due to its relatively small size visitors can get in contact with all it has to offer with ease. To provide an indication, almost 40pc of the region is classified or protected by European and national legislation for nature conservation (including Natura 2000, natural parks, etc). This is remarkable! But many tourist and travel agents from the region are still not aware of this or interested in it. There remains a lack of commitment to ensure the preservation and promotion of these values. We must engage the tourism sector with greater conviction and promote the local culture and natural resources. We must also engage with local communities and inform and educate about the exclusivity and rarity of many of our resources, by explaining the crucial importance of these aspects in tourism sustainability and of course, to engage them in programs and products that can support a responsible relationship with those aspects. There must be a win-win relationship - the tourism agents must win, but it’s crucial that above all the territory also wins. And that’s something important to explain to the industry.

What must the Algarve region do to develop a truly sustainable tourism model?

Algarve is a very special region. But it is also a very sensitive one. We have problems with water resources, forest fires, abandonment of the countryside, soil desertification, mass construction in sensitive areas, among others. Note for example there are "two Algarves in one" - the coastline and the interior/inland. One is strongly occupied and other becoming depopulated, yet it is not so far from the coastline - just 30km! All these issues directly and indirectly affect tourism in Algarve. We must be aware of it. That’s the first step in the definition of a sustainable tourism model. Also, we must accept that there are limits and regulations that must be respected and implemented. Finally, we must have a political commitment strong enough to ensure the definition and implementation of a sustainable model for the region. This is, for me, the most important and crucial aspect, but also the most difficult to achieve.

What are you hoping to benefit from the Algarve Tourism Conference and how important are events like this for the region?

We hope to meet new people and professionals interested in sustainability, responsible tourism and working in responsible programs that can achieve all things I’ve outlined above. I also hope this conference can contribute to the discussion of sustainable tourism model for the region and a better relationship with local resources and communities. Knowledge is something crucial in all sectors of society. And tourism is not an exception. So, these events are essential for ensuring a strong and sustainable tourism industry in Algarve. Not only for all professionals but also for the politic decision makers in the region.