|is it just me?
Buckets and spades: the Algarveís forte
After 35 years in the TV and film industry, June Lover retired to the Algarve in 2006. Having owned a holiday property here for 12 years she now lives in the hills above Almancil.
Summer is here, and with it the holiday season. In this, my sixth summer as a full time Algarve resident, I look forward to July and August with mixed feelings.
On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoy seeing so many happy families taking pleasure in the sun, sea and sand, boosting our local economy with their hard-earned cash. On the other, I dread the traffic jams, the parking problems and the mayhem at the supermarkets which make Harrods January sale look like a picnic.
But itís only for a few weeks, and it takes very little effort to adjust my daily routine to accommodate these very welcome guests. No modifications necessary this year, however.
Where is everybody? Airlines report that their planes are full to capacity. What they fail to mention is that they have cut their number of flights by up to 50% in some cases. Less flights mean less people. An 8% increase on airport tax in the UK hasnít helped much either.
Repeated industrial action by ATCs and TAP pilots, along with a 15-minute yomp to collect your hire car does little to contribute to the chaos at Faro airport, but at least we canít blame volcanic ash this year.
You donít have to be a mathematician to work out why thereís plenty more space on the beaches this year.
Last week I visited a well known golf and beach resort. I spent the first 10 years of my Algarve experience here so I know it like the back of my hand. I was shocked. It was like a ghost town compared with previous years.
Villas were shuttered, colourful sun brollies were closed and roads that are normally lined with parked cars as far as the eye can see were totally empty.
I moved on to another of my favourite haunts. A Boutique Mall, full of coffee shops, bars and eateries of all description. Designed almost exclusively to attract the estrangeiros, this is a great place to sit and watch the world go by, such is my passion for people-watching.
But apart from a couple of families tucking into an all-day breakfast, a dad treating his three small boys to ice creams and a handful of Lisboans on their annual pilgrimage south lingering for hours over a bica as is their wont, there was little to watch except the smart shop assistants chatting to each other from the doorways of their empty designer outlets.
A few years ago it was impossible to find a parking space, let alone a table to sit at.
Next stop was a local supermarket, popular with the holidaymaker because it caters so well for the Brits. For the last four years, I have avoided this store like the plague in July and August, so I felt the need to check it out.
To my delight it was a tad busy, but I had no trouble parking and my only slight delay was at the Deli counter because a new boy had started and he was struggling with the vast array of charcuteries, not to mention the foreign dialects that were being thrown his way. I was in and out in no time.
Thereís no doubt itís been a difficult year for Portugal. Huge borrowing has to be repaid and Government revenue must be increased to meet this debt. Thereís no escape from the rising costs.
My own domestic accounts reveal some telling figures. An overall increase of 6% in 2010, a further 13% in 2011, and this year is heading rapidly towards an additional whopping great 20%.
Almost 40% to do exactly the same as I was doing four years ago. These household expenditures include utilities, shopping, petrol, various insurances and local taxes.
Thereís no doubt that much of this increase is attributable to the substantial annual rises in IVA. This has a massive impact on my life, but unfortunately the buck stops here. As a consumer I canít pass this on. I must bite the bullet and tighten my belt accordingly. Itís a case of sink or swim.
Iím not the only one experiencing this incredible rise in the cost of living. Businesses face the same problem and they have no option but to pass it on to the end user. And that, in an area which relies heavily on tourism for its income, is the holidaymaker.
The holidaymaker has a deep pocket, but itís not bottomless. Not only does he have to absorb these rising costs, many of which are carefully concealed, he has all the little add-ons that have crept in while his back was turned to contend with.
The introduction of parking charges at beaches and shopping centres for example Whilst these arenít huge, and are often waived in the winter, theyíre doubled in the summer months. A trip to the beach can become quite expensive.
However, itís not all gloom and doom. The good news is that the currency exchange rate is favourable for the British holidaymaker at the moment which is just as well, Ďcos heíll need to squeeze every last cÍntimo out of his pound to pay for these little extras.
And then thereís the dear old A22 road tolls. I would hazard a guess that this is probably the most unpopular tax ever introduced in the history of the Algarve, and the saga continues ad nauseam.
For most visitors, itís not the money thatís the issue, but the method of payment. Even those of us who live here still struggle to get to grips with this little problem.
Do we really expect our holidaymakers to spend hours of their precious sunbathing time queuing up at the Post Office to discover that not only do they have to pay for their own motorway usage, but that of the previous car hirer too? Ridiculous!
I would be interested to know just what revenue this toll generates compared to that which is being lost due to ill-feeling along the coast.
The Spanish are boycotting the A22 big time! Easter, traditionally a time when our neighbours travel across the border for the long weekend, was quiet. Whether it was the money or a point of principal, I really donít know. But they stayed away.
Even the tourist associations were recommending that visitors use the A22 as a last resort and should avoid it at all cost. Need I say more?
GNR officers, stationed strategically at roundabout exits, do not present a welcoming environment either. Yes, I know why theyíre there, and I know theyíre collecting a substantial revenue in fines to help fund the national purse, but itís hardly inviting is it?
Then thereís the golf. The Algarveís reputation for its wonderful golf courses is well-deserved. But it was never cheap and the recent 17% rise in VAT has finally priced it out of the market.
By tradition, golfers are big spenders but theyíre not stupid. Are we surprised that theyíre now spending their Euros elsewhere?
According to one of the many hotel and tourist organisations, it would appear that hotel occupancy has been declining since 2008. I could have told you that. But Iím not an expert, merely an observer.
The big question is, has Portugal shot itself in the foot? Many would say ďYesĒ. Iím not a politician, therefore itís easy to criticise those who are. But I canít help thinking that those chaps up there in Lisbon have lost the plot.
The Secretary of State for Tourism visited the Algarve in May, but offered little hope to the many organisations represented at the seminar. Austerity measures must prevail, she said, or Portugal goes bankrupt. Not a nice thought. But with so many restaurants and retail outlets already bankrupt as a result of the punitive taxes and lack of visitors, she might as well have been talking to herself.
The Algarve is only little, but it generates a huge income for the country and helps enormously towards a somewhat fragile economy. Or at least, it did. These latest fund-raising efforts are leaving a nasty taste in the mouth of the visitors we so strongly depend upon. Donít bite the hand that feeds you. Words of wisdom which seem to have been ignored.
Buckets and spades are the bread and butter of the Algarveís tourist industry. An industry which has taken years to build, giving it a high-ranking status in the European holiday hotspots. But I canít help wondering if buckets and spades will soon be a thing of the past. I do hope Iím wrong.