February 23, 2020 English news blog from the Algarve

Balance growth and preserve authenticity – interview with Jorge Botelho, President of Tavira, about the future of the city.

It was with friendliness and cordiality that we were received by the President of Tavira, Jorge Botelho, in an early afternoon that promised one of those sunny days.  We were able to get to know a little bit of the environment around the backstage of the town, we memorised every sound that announced other duties and decisions, and we were even inspired by the authentic beauty that overflowed with a huge picture right in front of us while we waited to discover the epicentre of a city’s life.  At that moment we heard the voice that commands the hosts saying that we could enter. And we respected that invocation, trying to disguise the anxiety by opening the huge and heavy door that would allow us to absorb the organised bustle of his spacious and dynamic office.

The President has made sure of leaving us at ease, as in 21 years’ time in regional policy, he’s certainly used to welcoming those who seek to listen to his words.  We wanted to listen to who best understands the rhythms of a municipality, who knows how to respect the rules and who has always given priority to the dignity of the causes. This is what thrives this gentleman, who, in 9 years as President of Tavira, has done everything to make the city a point of election and quality. That’s what we see and feel when walking around Tavira, at any time.

In the over one hour long interview we were able to talk about such important areas of the city life as the influence of the expatriate community on the development of Tavira, the cultural activities policy and the cities biggest challenges for the future.


Jorge Botelho, President of Tavira.

A SMALL CITY ON THE PATH TO INTERNATIONALIZATION

Algarve Post – Mr President, thank you for this opportunity to speak with you today. Tavira is becoming an increasingly attractive tourist destination. We see the number of foreign residents grow. In your perspective, how does this influence the development of the city?

Jorge Botelho – Foreigners who are residents in Tavira grow together with us. That is, for me, a foreigner is like a Portuguese. As long as he is a responsible citizen, brings an agenda of peace, wants to create wealth and jobs and is integrated into the community, then we are happy.

AP – In your opinion, do you think that the city has done a good job in welcoming those who come here? To what extent has it been able to adjust to those who choose to become residents in Tavira?

JB – Yes, of course. We know how to receive new residents well, we are a land of peaceful people. We are very proud of our heritage. I’m also from Tavira and today I think it’s a reason for pride to be from Tavira. It’s the most beautiful land in the Algarve, best preserved, where a lot happens, we have fantastic beaches, where people love to be. And you don’t have to have 5 or 6 discos to have fun. Today everyone has transport, and the mobility system is much better. As a city, we are a few steps ahead of the others. I have no doubts about that. This search for everyone is fundamental, and so I believe that yes, this recognition is visible. Because we welcome newcomers well, we also live well with our foreign neighbors, since we share our standards of respect. It is our culture.

Aerial view of the city of Tavira

AP – There are already several expatriates who have decided to invest and create business throughout the Algarve. Is Tavira a good place for this? Which industries are more active and prolific, in your perspective?

JB – At the moment, foreign investment is focused on the tourism sector and commerce. But some also invest in agriculture, which is a growing sector, because Tavira is not only the city of Tavira. There’s a huge agricultural field where there are many investments. That’s why the foreigners who invest are making very substantial efforts in the municipality of Tavira, certainly to make money and create jobs. They invest, produce, export…

AP – And are there ways to make it easier for these people to enter our markets?

JB – Well, it is one thing to be a European citizen and another thing is not to be one. As a European citizen we are on a nice line. Coming from Belgium, Holland, Portugal, the regime is more or less the same and people have a great tranquility to invest. And it’s another thing to be a non-EU citizen; there are little different rules. But once you get here, investment is investment. All governments, all chambers, want foreign investment, as a way to supplant and create wealth. Here in Tavira, fortunately, foreigners have been buying, as have the Portuguese. There are often Portuguese who have partnerships with foreigners. Having partnerships, one must create infrastructures. That’s why I would say that the economic moment is interesting, it’s good. Portugal is growing economically, the deficit is decreasing, and this allows us to free up money so that people can buy things. Companies understand that. We live in a climate of confidence, and when that happens, both Portuguese and foreign investors invest, because they believe that what the government is doing is important, as well as what the council is doing is important in supporting investors. Many times, what investors ask us to do is to ensure that the processes in the chamber don’t take forever. So we do the licensing processes to provide a specific service with the investor and so that the processes are concluded as soon as possible for the investment to happen.

We are the gateway to Europe and the gateway to the world, we have driven the Discoveries.


AP – So the city is supportive toward new foregin investments.

JB – That’s what we do every day. In Tavira and the Algarve, there’s not exactly a separate idea from the foreigners and the Portuguese. We have to live together, because we’re an open society. A little conservative but open. Since the 1960s, tourism has been discovered, and since then the Algarve has become accustomed to living with the English, the Germans, the Dutch, the French, the Italians and many Nordic people. Nowadays, many Canadians, Americans, are appearing. The government is selling our image well and people see that Portugal is indeed a fantastic place. And it’s not just the Algarve. Portugal is North, Centre, South, Islands. It’s all beautiful, we have a lot of history, we have the best food, fantastic beaches, landscapes. We are the gateway to Europe and the gateway to the world, we have driven the Discoveries. We don’t lack history. More and more a country of obligatory visit.
And it’s within this logic that we’ve become used to living with those who visit us. As mayor, but also as a citizen, I value my friends, my family and the people who have known me since I was a child. So are the people who have just arrived and who fit in with everyday life. I make no distinction between them, nor between religious beliefs, languages, ethnicities or sexual orientations. For me we are all the same, and each one makes life what he or she wants.

AP – From this question we believe that another is born that has to do with local rents and their exponential increase, becoming almost unsustainable for the locals. Does foreign purchasing power give rise to some kind of inflation?

JB – We have always had foreigners. At the moment, as it has been for many years now, prices are rising in the summer. We are a touristic land, and where there’s people there’s demand. If the supply is the same, the price rises. It is a basic rule of the economy. So what I mean is that this is not the effect of foreigners, but the effect of tourism. So, and Tavira is increasingly recognised, it’s normal for prices to rise, because there are more people and more demand. If there is more supply, then it follows demand and price dynamics stabilize.

Imagine a restaurant with 40 seats. If you have 40 clients the price is one way, but if you have 120 clients for the same 40 places, then the price is able to rise, right? So it’s not the effect of foreigners. But it has a cost of living effect, and on housing. What has happened is that the demand from foreigners, and even Portuguese investors, has increased, with the aim of buying houses and rehabilitating the patrimony. And this caused the price of houses to rise, because the number of houses did not increase. This is the demand that has not kept up with supply. If we had made houses and more houses at the same time they were being bought, the price probably wouldn’t have risen, but the stock of available houses was the same and when two, three or four searches arrive for the same house, then the price rises. That’s what happened in Tavira. But also in the Algarve as a whole, and it’s happening in Lisbon, and in Porto, Coimbra, Braga, everywhere… When this happens we have to look at the problem, and even more so the previous government has relaxed the law on long-term leases, and the current government has already corrected that you can’t put people over 65 on the streets. When policies follow a certain line, young people and families go to the periphery with higher prices. This is what is happening everywhere. That is why the chambers have to have more and more responsibilities in housing with controlled costs, which allow them to launch houses at a lower price in the rental market. And that is what we are all working on. But it’s something that takes time.

GROWING THE CULTURAL AGENDA

Tavira by night

AP – Every year, there is constant focus on the Cultural Agenda, with the municipality succeeding in bringing great names from the national artistic scene. As well as countless activities, with tradition and the cultures of the land taking precedence. It’s increasingly important for the city to remain attractive, not only for the locals, but also for those who visit?

JB – Of course. When we do the cultural programming we don’t just do it for the Portuguese, or for the residents, or for the Tavirenses or voters. We also do it for the foreign community that lives here permanently and for all those who spend their holidays here.

That’s why this issue of cultural dynamics is important because people are increasingly gathering around these cultural phenomena. We like to hold street events, as is good to see, and then we associate it with quality of life. We have several moments, such as the Easter celebration, with the Holy Week, which always attracts thousands of people, also the 25th of April the following week, where freedom is celebrated, followed by the summer in Tavira.

Meanwhile, the spring programme is underway in Tavira, and we find ourselves with the string attached. It’s followed by the Mediterranean Diet and Youth Week, and we end up on New Year’s Eve. There are several cultural moments to get people together and to make Tavira this exciting place where you always return.

AP – Given your prominent position as mayor, you end up being the main promoter of everything that happens. Don’t you think that the level of demand has also been increasing?

JB – Of course, the level of demand has been increasing, because we are also very demanding. It’s not only the people who are demanding, because most of the shows are free. That is, generally when it’s free there’s no such requirement. But we, the Executive, the Mayor, the Councillors, are demanding. That’s why when we understand that there is a higher level of quality, there are more people, and many times the cultural level of these people is also high and we ourselves follow this demand and raise the level of the offer. In this way everyone wins, because when you offer, you offer quality. Nowadays Tavira is a standard of quality, because the cultural offer has been improving. It was unthinkable a few years ago to bring the artists we bring at the moment. I think we all win with Tavira’s positioning, but above all, the people who live here or those who decide to live here and spend their holidays are the winners. We’re very happy to do it and, therefore, within this movement, we’re doing well and recommendable. Tavira, with this effort, is gaining a lot of prominence and affirming itself

AP – How does the city support cultural activities and ensure that more and more local businesses are involved in organization and advertising?

JB – All shows organized by the city council do not have any kind of support from private individuals. The Chamber does not ask for any kind of money to be allocated for the hiring of artists. Not even on logistical issues, such as lights, sound or the stage. It’s all paid by the

City Hall. There is the exception of the Mediterranean Diet, an event in which we receive support from the European Union, because it is a regional development project. We make an investment in this cultural area so that Tavira has more and more people. When that happens, there’s more investment in the city, more people buy homes – because they want to live here -, there are more people contributing with taxes, there are more people who leave a set of incomes here, there’s more full balconies, there’s more companies opening doors. Within this, the most important thing of all happens: there are more jobs. When people have jobs, both young and old, there’s more security, there’s more social sustainability, there’s less conflict… Everyone works for the same. So we fit everything into a strategy that the Council supports with a designated budget for that. It’s an investment so that the city is better known and that it attracts more and more people who also invest, who re-qualify the patrimony, who fall in love with Tavira, who know Tavira. Then there’s the dynamic that happens, with the rehabilitation of heritage by private individuals, businesses opening by private individuals, local accommodation opening by private individuals, hotels growing by private individuals. All this creates the dynamics of quality. We invest in the cultural offer but then we see the return on employment and investment that private individuals make here. But these same individuals don’t invest a cent in the Chamber’s programming. And I also want to say that there isn’t any artist stepping into the stage who hasn’t received the due amount.

AP – Within the cultural program, you certainly have your preferences. Where would you take your close friends or distinguished guests?

JB – To all! I’ve already brought friends to New Year’s Eve, to Youth Week, to Summer in Tavira… But I think that in the last 5 years an event of great quality was created and that deserves to be highlighted, the Mediterranean Diet Fair.

HOW TO MAINTAIN THE TITLE OF THE PRINCESS OF ALGARVE

We don’t want houses and more houses, we don’t want buildings, we don’t want skyscrapers.

AP – Tavira is among the 10 most expensive Portuguese municipalities, from food to the price per square meter of houses, which exceeds the national average. In Tavira this figure is around 1362€. How did we get to this point? Is it a consequence of the growing foreign community and growing tourism?

JB – No. The price per square meter of the houses is not only related to the foreign community, within what I told you. It’s a bit of everything. The price increases according to the quality of the destination and the number of available accommodations. If there are more people looking, whether Portuguese or foreign, and the number of houses is maintained, the price increases. This reference is a reference in the Expresso, where we appear in the Top 10 of the price per square metre of housing, but it’s for these reasons. And why is that? Because we want to be like this. We don’t want houses and more houses, we don’t want buildings, we don’t want skyscrapers. This Executive wants it that way. Whoever comes here, Portuguese or foreign, and who falls in love with Tavira, falls in love because that’s how it is. It’s not because we don’t have the tower that we should have. They fall in love like this, so that’s how it has to stay. We can grow around it, but we can’t distort what is a historical past of enormous wealth. Which would be a mistake. The golden roofs, the fronts, the gardens… None of this can be distorted. The price per square meter increases because there is more demand. And why is there more demand? Because people want to buy in Tavira. If they want to buy in Tavira and if there’s little to sell, then the price goes up.

AP – The Municipality recently launched a promotional video in which the beauty, culture and traditions of the land are very well reflected. We can see the effort to show the city in an appealing way, reinforcing even more the fact that Tavira is a great tourist destination. As tourism has grown exponentially, the risk of the city losing its identity, either typical or historical, also increases, as happened in other cities in the Algarve region. In what terms and measures can the municipality prevent such a phenomenon?

JB – Did you like the video? The video tells a story. It starts in absolute tranquillity until it ends in a big way. There is no risk. That is, as long as there are politicians who like their land. At the moment, the urban building regulations of Tavira City Council protect the heritage, so there’s no risk of massification. There’s a risk of having a lot of tourists walking around, but there’s no risk of having a lot of residents here. The circuits of travel agencies and other platforms are another thing. We have to prepare ourselves so that there are more and more travel agencies that want to do the tours through the heritage, we have to be prepared to receive, organise tours, set quotas if necessary. There are several things we can do. But there is no risk, nor can there be any risk, of us, through humanisation, distorting what is our heritage. All the funds that enter through tourism must be invested in heritage, in order to preserve authenticity, in order to preserve our squares and sidewalks. It must be for this. Do we want to grow? Yes, indeed. We have a lot of territory around the national road 125 where we can grow, where we can enlarge the arch. But the historic centre, which is the soul and heart of the city, where history is very lively, can never happen. Therefore, I would say that there is humanized tourist pressure, and more and more, but how do we defend ourselves? Trying to organize things so that people come and visit and understand the history. But we can’t make it more flexible, we can’t allow that, because there are so many people who want to buy here, all of a sudden we start to build in height! It cannot happen. It’s not because there are more people wanting to buy that suddenly a two-storey building becomes a five-storey building. And we have the urban building regulations that protect that very thing. Which is a guarantee against the risks of massification.

AP – Currently one of the problems that has arisen is the issue of caravans. We are facing some lack of space for this type of tourism, which affects not only these tourists but also the locals and other residents. What measures have already been implemented to tackle this problem? Or what measures does the Council have in mind for future implementation?

JB – We have a licensed caravan park in Cabanas de Tavira, two more licensed parks will appear and there are several perspectives for investment in private parks. That’s why the investment in caravan parks, approved and regulated, as it should be, is fantastic. They may come, because we are available to make and approve investments at that level. What are we not going to allow for much longer? It is the disordered caravanism. We are currently working on a solution that will reduce or eliminate the parking of caravans in places where they should not be. Just like next to the Ria Formosa, next to public parks, that can’t be.

Either they stay in a caravan park or they don’t park. I don’t know yet what kind of regulation we’re going to have, but recently the Tavira Municipality has received government powers in the area of public parking. In due course, perhaps even this year, there will be solutions.

AP – As Mayor, what message would you like to convey to tourists who fall in love with the city? What are the basic reasons why these people consider absolute change and even raising a family?

JB – I can say that Tavira is a fantastic land, preserved, historical, that lives in peace and security, with fantastic and hospitable people, with a great climate. When it’s like this, it’s more than normal for people to want to visit or even move here. Everyone is welcome. When they get here, they are part of the community and in a community prevails the relationships and neighbourhood. We all live well with each other. That’s always the idea. We want people to be happy. That’s what’s really important.

After the serious crisis we had where we stayed on bread and water, having this tourist avalanche… It really got us out of the hole.

AP – Do you remember when this tourist boom started in Tavira? Did it scare the city and the locals? Or were we prepared to receive this avalanche?

JB – We have to see what has happened in recent years in Portugal. We’ve been touristic for many years and we’ve always had a lot of tourism. After the serious crisis we had where we stayed on bread and water, having this tourist avalanche… It really got us out of the hole. In my first term as mayor there was no money, for anything. The chambers were in debt, the government almost went bankrupt, we were intervened by the IMF, there was no possibility of buying anything. There were funds to pay salaries but for little more… Fortunately there were changes of government with completely different perspectives. And tourism began to give from north to south of the country, as well as investments, and confidence, and the recovery of heritage. Between 2011 and 2013 everything was very difficult. Before that period we had tourism where there was a lot of revenue money from taxes, but then there was a critical phase where there was no money for anything and the chambers were heavily indebted. Now we are all better again. Were we prepared for this tourist avalanche? We were. Have we lost many important assets to respond to tourism and construction? We lost, because during the period of the crisis, we saw the need for many people to go to other countries. Many young people emigrated, many people in different areas had to emigrate. But there has always been tourism. We were the ones who were very badly off. Today we are prepared but we have to train people. At this moment we have a very big challenge. We have to have more people in restaurants, in hotels, more qualified people, more people in traditional professions, more engineers, more technicians for innovation. It’s all work that we have to do to be prepared for the future. From what this tourism sector is like, the big crisis is not having manpower to work with. Because today there are jobs, there is demand, which is pushing up wages. We were prepared, we were. We are good at improvising. Portugal has always been an innovative country, since the Discoveries. We always respond.

One of the most crowded streets in Tavira

THE NEXT ACT – LOOKOUT FOR THE FUTURE

AP – From your point of view, what are the main challenges that the city will face, as well as the plans for the future?

JB – Tavira now needs a theatre, and it will. In fact, it’s already under construction. Tavira needs a new bridge over the river, and it will. The contract will be signed next week. Tavira needs a recreational dock, a place to park the boats, and it will have one. We’re working on it. Tavira has to continue to invest in rehabilitating its heritage, it has to have more housing for young people and lower middle class families to continue here. It’s a set of challenges in Tavira’s positioning to give comfort to the people who live here. There’s a very important social policy around this, and a whole range of support. In Tavira, children don’t pay for school textbooks, they don’t pay for transport… This is because we make a point of supporting them. All this makes Tavira a good place to live and people also look for and visit. That’s the idea. We are ambitious, we have many collective projects to do, that make our community share the public space. Both in the cultural sector and in the social or economic sector. The basis is always to strengthen the issue of employment. There is always something to do. Tavira has to be prepared to respond to these challenges. Tavira is healthy. The chamber’s accounts and people’s satisfaction say so. In the last elections, a year and a half ago, this executive won with 59% of the votes. It means that there’s an enormous level of satisfaction with the work we’ve been doing. Out of every 10 people who voted, 6 voted for us. This only makes us even more responsible, because there is more trust. We are here to respond to an electoral program, it is our commitment, so that at the end of the mandate these objectives are achieved. But we do much more than the electoral program. But that commitment, those measures that are there, have to be worked out, because those are the ones that the Executive is proposing to do. When we follow these programs we have to have an idea if we have the conditions to fulfill them. This is what gives people confidence. This is the work we have to do. The last electoral commitment we fulfilled 85% of the measures. Which is good!

AP – After 9 years in office, where do you get your energy and spirit, to continue making the city better, from?

JB – We can only continue in this profession if we have the spirit. I don’t lack strength, but sometimes it is necessary to have the courage to do things. I’ve always been that way, ever since I was a kid. I’m 51 years old and I’ve always been like this: causes. The important thing is to have causes. In public life you have to believe in what you’re doing. Nobody forces you to be here. It’s something we predispose ourselves to. I have a profession, I have a degree in Law, I’ve been a lawyer, I’m a Social Security inspector. When I leave here I have a profession. We can only be in this by believing that we are doing something to improve. It is not necessary to change everything, sometimes it is necessary to maintain and preserve it just so it doesn’t fall apart. But yes, I am still determined to do things. And that’s the way it has to be. That’s how I’m giving this interview to such a young newspaper!

AP – And we would like to thank you again for giving us this opportunity.

JB – Thank you.

Promotional video of Tavira

About Jorge Botelho


Jorge Botelho
is a native and resident of Tavira. Always been linked to politics, he graduated in Law Degree and postgraduate in Business Management from the University of Algarve. He was District Director of the Faro District Center, Tavira Verde – Municipal Company of Environment, EM, member of the Board of Directors of ALGAR – Valorização de Resíduos Sólidos. Since October 19, 2009, he is president of the Municipality of Tavira accumulating the positions of Chairman of the Board of Directors of Tavira Verde, General Assembly of ALSUD, President of the General Assembly of the Algarve Musical Association and member of the Executive Council of the Administration of the Algarve Hydrographic Region.

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