As Covid-19 cases in Europe rise again, Portugal is a ‘safe place’
Martinhal Resort is a collection of luxury hotels in Portugal that is at the forefront of several key travel trends. These include the re-emergence of Europe as a destination for American travelers in 2022, family travel, and the rise of a new class of digital nomads. I recently sat down with Martinhal CEO Chitra Stern in Lisbon to find out what American travelers should expect when they return to Europe.
How did Portugal behave during the pandemic?
The past 18 months have been tough for all sectors of the industry, I won’t lie, but the phase one lockdown has helped control it and the Portuguese government has moved quickly. In May 2020, we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel with the reopening of Portugal’s borders.
Truly? Did things start to bounce back so early?
Well, it wasn’t easy. Cases started to rise again, curfews were reintroduced and, once again, the travel reservation process was too complex and uncertain. But Portugal was one of the first EU countries to introduce Clean & Safe certification and, in June 2021, joined the European Tourism Covid-19 Safety Seal.
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Is Portugal out of the woods yet?
As a nation, we are now on the path to normalcy with the reopening of restaurants, hotels, offices and schools. And it’s going well. The vaccination rollout is effective and I am proud that Portugal is today one of, if not the, the first country in the world, with the highest percentage of the population fully vaccinated. It shows the confidence there is in the free healthcare system which is one of the main reasons my family is here in the first place.
In your TED talk in 2019, you described Portugal as “trendy”. Is it still in fashion now that we’ve been in the pandemic for two years? And how has the attractiveness of Portugal changed?
In many ways, it’s more fashionable now because people recognize the country beyond its avant-garde history, nature, architecture and museums, but rather for its style of unique life and the authenticity of its people – especially at a time when we have all had a break and time to think about what we want for ourselves and our families.
Between 2016 and 2019, Portugal started to get the recognition it deserved from a business and foreign investment perspective. The Web Summit, for example, announced in 2016 that Lisbon would be its host city for the next 10 years. This has boosted foreign investment, especially in the tech sector where Portugal continues to grow and be a platform for venture capitalists, private equity and startups.
It’s not just a business, but also a lifestyle, isn’t it?
Yes, I think people have started to discover Portugal for its amazing restaurants, talented chefs, hot hotel scene, emerging fashion brands and museums that have taken on a global dimension, like the Art Museum, architecture and technology of Lisbon. It really has everything you want from Europe without being saturated with tourism. Most people now know that it is a beautiful country thanks to its coastline, beaches, islands like the Azores, mountain ranges and picturesque vineyards.
I have always compared it to the west coast of the United States, geographically speaking but also the appeal of its lifestyle. It is the California of Europe. Lifestyle is about many things such as living in a temperate climate, having access to affordable education and health care, safety and security and the good news is that Portugal performs well on all of them. these points.
And the people are welcoming too. This is something that I noticed here.
The Portuguese are tolerant and ready to welcome foreigners with open arms. In such a divided world, nothing is more important than this when we consider the priorities in our lives.
You said you saw a resurgence of interest from Americans from last year. Do you know what was behind it? Are there a lot of pent-up requests to travel abroad, or is it political, or something else?
Recent statistics show that new residents to Portugal from North America increased 12% year over year in 2020. And the number in 2019 was 20% more than in 2018. United States was the third Golden Visa immigrant after China and Brazil in 2020. The Golden Visa is a citizenship by investment program. I was encouraged by the Americans’ request especially since only a few years ago the country was completely underestimated and largely unrecognized.
So what do they see in Portugal?
I think people have come to see Portugal as a safe haven in Europe, known for its stable government, access to nature and outdoor activities, attractive cost of living and cohesive approach to tackling Covid . Its geographical location is also fabulous for the global citizen.
There is also health …
Law. Access to health care here is possible at a much lower cost than in the United States. I think all of this, coupled with the fact that residents of densely populated cities like New York, London and Sao Paulo, to name just a few of the key markets in which we are seeing investment driving here, were actively exploring opportunities to relocation.
The safety and security of the cities here is also appreciated by those who settle there. The relatively low cost of living was also mentioned by many. The high level of immunization and the government’s handling of COVID impressed many. Moving here has been made easier by the Portuguese government which introduced the Golden Visa and D7 visa program, and projects such as Martinhal Residences which are aimed in particular at expatriate families who plan to invest in a hotel residence.
How have your stations reacted to the uncertainty of the past two years?
We have introduced long term rental offers with competitive rates at all four hotels and resorts, starting at â¬ 37 per night, based on a six month stay, in the heart of Lisbon at Martinhal Chiado.
We have met the demand for serviced villas and apartments equipped with amenities including full kitchens, washer-dryers, gardens, balconies, and plenty of private pools. These deals began to be requested by domestic travelers at the height of the pandemic, as families sought a change of scenery, and they continue to be booked among those with increased flexibility to work remotely.
You have a new complex under construction, the Martinhal residences in the Parc des Nations district of Lisbon. This project is a little different from your other four resorts. You adapt this to long-term residents. Why is Lisbon becoming a destination for long-term foreign residents?
Since the launch of Martinhal Resorts in 2010, as the world emerged from the financial crash again, we have become known for making family vacations smooth and offering luxury resorts and family amenities in prime locations across the world. Algarve, Cascais and Lisbon.
We are now taking advantage of our unique formula and our experience in the hotel industry to offer these same families and new followers of the brand the opportunity to make their dreams of expatriate life a reality and to help them make a transition in candy. We have 160 apartments ranging from studios to one, two, three and four bedroom penthouse and duplex apartments, ready for completion by summer 2022.
We are proud to be the latest development in the contemporary and emerging district of the Parc des Nations in Lisbon. 80% of the units have already been sold to buyers from all over Singapore to California. We took inspiration from some of the world’s greenest eco-cities and neighborhoods and worked with famous Portuguese architect Eduardo Capinha Lopes, who envisioned a spectacular green and verdant facade that will be a future landmark in Lisbon.
You mentioned that Portugal has an investment citizenship program called Golden Visa. What is it and how does a program like this factor into an investment in your new residences?
The Golden Visa is one of the most popular residency programs offered by the Portuguese government to encourage foreign investment. This is a five-year residency-by-investment program for third-country nationals and allows visa-free movement within the European Schengen area. It only requires an average stay of seven days per year in Portugal over this period, which can also be counted for citizenship eligibility after five years. To be eligible, the minimum real estate investment value is â¬ 500,000.
Interested buyers have the opportunity to invest in one of the Golden Visa investment options in Martinhal Residences starting at â¬ 880,000 for our two bedroom apartments – our studios and one bedroom apartments are sold out.
When you think of a family trip, you imagine a budget hotel or a vacation rental. Your resorts are going the other way – they’re much more upscale, with full service. What is the market for luxury family travel as the pandemic enters its third year?
It is an exciting growth market as international family travel begins to return. Now that children have the right to be vaccinated and families can once again consider traveling abroad, we are already seeing demand for our larger private villas in Martinhal Sagres and Martinhal Cascais, where they celebrate reunions of long-awaited family. Our festive period is almost sold out at Martinhal Sagres, but for families still looking to vacation abroad, we have limited availability at Martinhal Chiado and Martinhal Cascais.
You have been in Portugal since 2001. Can you describe the ideal visitors to Portugal? Who should consider coming here?
The profile of visitors has certainly changed over the past 20 years. More recently, typical visitors who find Portugal interesting to settle in are families, tech entrepreneurs, cryptocurrency experts, freelancers, digital nomads, and retirees.
When Americans visit Portugal in 2022, what should they expect?
A safe, welcoming and modern country where people have overcome the most difficult times of Covid. Certainly, one can have a safe and relaxing family vacation that combines all the best regions of Europe, from its historic charm to its contemporary museums and incredible food scene.