Despite being relatively small, Portugal's culture is rich and diverse. Here you'll find the imposing northern mountains, the enchanting Douro Valley and the golden plains of Alentejo, not to mention a sprinkling of UNESCO sites and the historic city of Porto. The nation's diversity is one of the reasons it was named Best Destination of the World at the 24th edition of the World Travel Awards, becoming the first European country to receive the distinction. Its location alone would make Portugal attractive to planners of all stripes, being just one to three hours away from many other major European cities and a five- to eight-hour flight from most destinations in North America. Add to the mix a warm Mediterranean climate with an average of six hours of sun per day and one of the best values in Western Europe, and you have a first-rate meetings destination.
A Wide Array of Activities
Port is Portugal's most famous wine, but all Portuguese wine is now being recognized worldwide for its superior quality. Today's meetings and incentives include visits to wineries, wine bars, wine routes and even wine spas that feature grape-based treatments.
Kite surfing, rock climbing, zip-lining, paragliding and surfing comprise some of Portugal's other offerings. Unique attractions include shows featuring Portuguese water dogs, activities using cork (the country is the largest cork producer in the world), boat trips to Ria Formosa Natural Park and cruising on the Tejo River.
A meal at a Fado restaurant offers a cozy, intimate and charming experience that will immerse a group in the local culture. For those looking to include surfing, operator Ride351 organizes outings for all ages and abilities.
"Portugal is an amazing country with perfect spots for all surfing levels, because we have plenty of choices in terms of waves and bottoms, more than 320 days of sun and good temperatures, friendly people and amazing food," says Antonio de los Santos, co-founder and CEO of Ride351. "We take groups to different areas of the country to experience surf, culture and gastronomy. The whole coast is rich in surfing spots, some very well-known, others not but equally good or better. Those are less crowded and with perfect waves, but you have to know how to get there."
There is no shortage of first-class hotels and resorts in Portugal aimed at the meetings and incentives market. Among the options are Ria Park Hotels, which include the 166-room Ria Park Hotel & Spa in the Algarve, named Europe's leading meetings and conference hotel this year by the World Travel Awards, and the 77-room Ria Park Garden Hotel, set in a pine forest between the resorts of Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago.
Tracy Moss, director at React Events, based in Ascot, Berkshire, United Kingdom, recently planned a successful program at Ria Park Hotel, that was highlighted by a beach party held the last night. A Beach Boys tribute band, flamethrowers, drummers and a tiki beach bar made the event complete. Moss also cites the country's easy accessibility from most points in Europe, her hotel's efficient catering crew and the quality of the food as other plusses.
When Plan B Scores an A Plus
Last year, hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the Caribbean, and the Ritz-Carlton, St. Thomas, was one of many hotels forced to close in the wake of the destructive storms. This was not welcome news for a program Brightspot Incentives & Events had scheduled at the hotel for a group of top-producing retail-store managers at the end of September. With the goal being to stay with Ritz-Carlton, the program was moved to the Penha Longa Resort, another property by the chain, near Lisbon in Portugal's stunning Sintra Mountains.
Indeed, Lisbon, Sintra and Penha Longa were all featured in the program. "Portugal offered this trifecta of unique experiences at a really affordable price," says Julie Blank, director of strategic accounts at Brightspot. "There was the beach, water experiences, quaint castles and Lisbon with its museums and other cultural experiences."
One evening event was held in the 16th-century Penha Longa Monastery, which is part of the resort. "Chanting monks greeted the group as they walked in, and there was a port tasting as well," Blank notes, adding that, to her surprise, the Portugal incentive stayed within the budget that had been allocated for St. Thomas.
"There is so much culture, amazing food and wine, and Cititravel was one of the best DMCs I have ever worked with," says Blank. In fact, she adds, the program was such a great success, "it is going to change how [the client] operates its programs and where they go in the future. It was game-changing." Indeed, Brightspot will now alternate this once exclusively Caribbean incentive between the Caribbean and Europe.
This article appears in the December 2018 issue of Successful Meetings.