The Atlantic island of Madeira is on track for a record year, according to the region’s tourism chief, Conceição Estudante.

During a recent interview with eTurboNews, she predicted that the number of tourist arrivals will break the 1 million mark for the first time, signifying a 5 percent increase compared with 2007.

Estudante cited the advent of low-cost flight operations as one of the principal reasons for the recent surge in traffic, along with a much-improved infrastructure such as the new facilities at Santa Catarina airport, more up-market hotels and a greatly extended road system.

“The advent of low-cost flights to the island has made an immediate impact, particularly from the UK, which is a trend that looks set to continue,” she said.

Once on the ground, tourists can now circumnavigate the island in just over an hour on brand-new motorways and visit a variety of recently-opened attractions such as the Madeira Story Centre, Casa das Mudas Contemporary Art Museum and the caves and volcanology centre at São Vicente.

Madeira’s popularity as a cruise destination also continues to grow, with 264 ships making a stopover last year, representing a rise of 14 percent compared with the previous year.

“Cruises are a thriving segment of the market and we have hopes for a further 5 per cent increase this year,” Estudante added.

The neighboring island of Porto Santo to the north-east of Madeira has also greatly enhanced its product portfolio in recent years by adding golf courses and spa facilities to the mix. The idyllic Atlantic hideaway, once home to Christopher Columbus prior to his pioneering voyage to America, boasts a long stretch of sandy beach, a vital tourism asset and one that Madeira doesn’t possess.

“The idea is to extend Porto Santo’s traditional summer season with golf courses, spa centers and more resort hotels. Both islands are ecologically in vogue and blessed with a temperate year-round climate, an abundance of lush green subtropical vegetation and some of the most striking sea and mountainscapes imaginable, and all within striking range of most European cities,” she concluded.