Saturday, December 4, 2010

INSIDE ALGARVE

High hopes of royal honeymoon here

We wait with bated breath to learn from Buckingham Palace if Prince William and his finance Kate Middleton accept an invitation to spend their honeymoon in the Algarve.

The invitation has been sent by the Algarve Tourist Board via the British Embassy in Lisbon. It was personally conveyed by the president of the Tourist Board, Nuno Aires, to the retiring British Ambassador, Alex Ellis, at a dinner in the Algarve last week.

Neither the Foreign & Commonwealth Office nor Buckingham Palace will comment or say how many other such invitations have been received from around the world.

Several resorts and hotels in the Algarve have reportedly offered accommodation and facilities to the royal couple. No doubt they, along with the Tourist Board, are sincere in wishing William and Kate well and would do their very best to ensure an enjoyable time.

But a royal honeymoon in the Algarve is just wishful thinking.

The wedding is in Westminster Abbey on 29th April. Okay, so the weather at the end of April and in early May in the Algarve is likely to be very pleasant. The countryside will be looking its best with windflowers abounding. Peace would normally reign in the post-Easter lull.

The arrival of the royal couple, however, would be accompanied by a veritable invasion of reporters and photographers, idolising fans and silly gawkers, not to mention perhaps a terrorist of two with paradise in mind.

Ensuring the couple's safety and seclusion would be a major problem, though not an insurmountable one bearing in mind the excellent job done recently by the security services during the NATO conference in Lisbon. Euro 2004 was another good example of how well the Portuguese police, working in conjunction with British security experts, can handle potentially boisterous hordes.

Obviously the hope in tourist circles here is that the royal honeymoon would boost the Algarve's image as a holiday destination. It's not a bad idea. A leading light in the local tourist industry called it “a good marketing iniative”.

But, frankly, it's a desperate one - and it isn't going to work.

For starters, it is highly unlikely that the second-in-line to the British throne and his gorgeous new wife would want to be so blatantly used for PR purposes. Secondly, lovely as the Algarve is, as a honeymoon destination for the likes of Prince William and Kate it is a bit tame. They might prefer somewhere a bit more exotic, well away from prying eyes, among wild animals other than Homo sapiens.

The Algarve is not virgin territory for the royal household. Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York, came with her children and stayed in a private house near Lagos some years ago, but cut short her stay complaining of press intrusion.

Prince William knows the area a little bit having visited with a bunch of his chums on a stag week in 2005. His stay near Carrapateira on the West Coast was kept very hush-hush, but there is no way he could repeat that.

The invitation from the Tourist Board is a desperate one because, frankly, the regional tourist industry is in distress, if not a mess.

Astute insiders say the trouble is that we have not been able to keep up with the times. We're out-of-date. A great many tourists have moved on from the package holiday arrangements that served us so well in the '90s and up until the early years of the new millennium. As air travel became cheaper, people started venturing forth to new, emerging destinations.

The turnover in resorts and hotels in the Algarve was way down in 2008. The year 2009 turned out to be the worst in 15 years. It got worse still in 2010 and the expectation is that it will be worse again next year.

Let's not knock the Algarve Tourist Board and others in the struggling tourist sector for trying, but they will have to come up with a better initiative than asking William and Kate to drop by next spring.






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