Joao Ministro on Algarve Regional Development, Branding and Sustainability

Meeting Joao Ministro was one of the highlights of my recent visit of the Algarve in Southern Portugal, the first destination I explored as part of TPBO on TOUR. Joao gave me the opportunity to understand the region's huge potential, but also to get a feeling for the many challenges it is facing. His work is especially valuable in that he connects the dots between regional development, talent attraction, tourism and sustainability.

In this interview, Joao tells us about the rural development of the Algarve, the current state of its sustainability as destination, and what needs to be done to keep it attractive and competitive as place to live - especially the rural, inland areas.

Joao, you are widely recognized as one of the Algarve’s leading promotors of ecotourism in support of local development. Do you remember what brought you to the topic? Who or what triggered your interest in tourism and rural communities?

I've been involved for more than 25 years in NGO's environmental activities. During this period, I was part of several projects, I managed many activities and got a close contact with the territory and local communities.

I realized that there were – and are – real discrepancies in the region, where tourism is the main economic activity. Discrepancies regarding nature and culture conservation, local development, social cohesion, landscape management and even economic impact.

I also realized that money was not the problem. Algarve have been receiving funding from the European Union for decades in order to develop the region as a whole. But many problems are still there.

Then, in 2005, I managed a project called Via Algarviana, a long distance walking path, supported by EU funding, in order to attract green economy to the countryside and the inner regions of Algarve (and it is working!). The main objective is to reduce the depopulation phenomenon of this inland territory.

For 6 years I “dived” into the territory, got in contact with many people living there, the local culture and economical activities and I realized that there is much to do. Many problems to solve, but also many opportunities to “grab” - namely in sustainable tourism development.

All these things triggered in me a strong interest for action. And of course, I really enjoy this territory!

Tourism in Portugal’s Algarve region is booming. How does this growth in visitor arrivals affect the sustainable development of the region as a whole?

It’s a complex question. Algarve has been growing economically, with the tourism industry. It’s among the richest regions in Portugal. But, at the same time, some of the poorest councils in Portugal are also in Algarve. So, it is a paradoxical situation.

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Founder and editor of The Place Brand Observer. Believes in the power of storytelling to connect people, to spread ideas and to make this world a better place for all. Impact entrepreneur and founder of the Sustainability Leaders Project.