Portugal to tout “West Coast” cool to tourists


LISBON (eTN) – They both boast renowned wine regions, sandy beaches and year-round mild and dry weather, but can old Europe re-brand itself with a new world image?

Former colonial power Portugal has decided to try and it’s counting on luring the tourists with a “West Coast” campaign.

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The 800-year-old country — whose rule once extended across half the planet — is attempting to boost tourism with a new campaign amid fierce competition from other sunny European destinations like Spain and weak past promotions.

Portugal’s Economy Minister, Manuel Pinho, said he hopes that by selling Portugal to tourists as “Europe’s West Coast,” he can persuade them that this small country next to Spain has a lot more to offer than a rich past.

“It is an innovative project. For the first time all institutions responsible for the campaign worked together to make it happen,” said Pinho.

Tourism is of great importance to Europe’s westernmost country, struggling to remain competitive in the 27-member European Union as lower cost producers overshadow traditional industries such as textiles.

Yet, the leisure industry — representing about 11 percent of Portugal’s economy — has often sold itself poorly, calling on tourists to come down when they need to “take a break” or meet people who are “warm by nature.”

A campaign in 2005 featured a whale diving into the ocean with a banner that read: “Portugal – Go Deeper,” triggering harsh criticism from pundits who accused authorities of burying the country’s history in favor of pornographic symbolism.

“It reminded me of a porn movie,” Carlos Coelho, who was responsible for revamping Portugal’s national airline TAP’s image, told Reuters.

The concern is that Portugal, whose kings once ruled over half the world, is seen as a country with nothing to offer, other than an illustrious past and mild weather all year round.

“No wonder some people see us as a poor nation where women dress in black,” said Pedro Bidarra, vice-president for international advertising agency BBDO in Portugal, who came up with the new concept to promote Portugal.

“Is a country on the sidelines what the Portuguese really want?” asked Bidarra.

By baptizing Portugal as Europe’s “West Coast”, the Portuguese hope some tourists may associate their country with the glamour and excitement of the U.S. west coast.

And the similarities between the two coasts seem endless.

San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge has a sister in Lisbon’s 25th of April bridge, the Napa Valley resembles Portugal’s Douro Valley region where Port wine is produced and the weather in both coasts is mild and dry all-year round.

Portuguese pro-surfer Tiago Pires, who spent part of his career surfing in California, told Reuters it was fine to call Portugal Europe’s west coast if it attracted more tourists as long as it didn’t overshadow the country’s history.

“We have a richer history then them (United States),” he said. “Besides, who wants to deal with all the traffic jams in California.”

As the debate goes on, tourists will have to figure out what Portugal is all about, on their own.