The Algarve after Maddie
praia da Luz, May 7, 2007
In 2007 the newspapers were filled with the Madeleine McCann case and pictures of the four-year-old girl, now, two years on, press coverage has died down and the story is no longer front page news. Laura Suter asks what happened to the town at the centre of it all when the disappearance happened?
Shortly after Madeleine's abduction reports emerged that the former fishing village of Praia de Luz, which once thrived on tourism, was a ghost town, that cancellations had flooded in and the beach was empty.
Many families with children were dubious about going to the resort, while some felt that the police and media intrusion would taint their holiday. In the weeks following the incident the Mark Warner Club, which runs the Ocean Club where Madeleine disappeared, had a number of cancellations or families transferring to other resorts.
praia da Luz, August 2009
However, Cristina Teixeira, who runs Luz Holidays, which rents villas to many nationalities, said her firm did not see this effect. The company had two cancellations out of 300 in 2008 and even then "clients did not offer the Madeleine justification".
In addition, figures were released in September this year which suggested that Portugal and the Algarve are having their best seasons in a number of years and families are flocking to the region. The statistics from the country's Office of National Statistics state August had occupancy rates of 90 per cent in the Algarve and equalled figures from 2008, which was the best on record for Portugal. So it seems tourists may not have been put off from visiting the region.
Chris Gladwin, 23, of Darlington, was one holidaymaker who braved the press reports and went to Praia de Luz just a few months after the disappearance, having pre-booked his holiday. However, he said that the break was not too different from a usual holiday – families flocked to the beach, the bars and restaurants were busy and toddlers played in the sand – albeit a little closer to their parents.
Mr Gladwin added that going in 2007 was a little off-putting when the town was littered with posters of Madeleine and the hunt was still very much alive. "It was a bit hard to escape from the case and the media and it was talked about in many of the bars," he explained, adding that the intrusion was not to the extent that it ruined the holiday.
Ms Teixeira admits that the 'Madeleine effect' did concern some holidaymakers and that those with young children were perhaps put off in 2008 "and maybe some are a bit nervous but the effect has mostly disappeared now".
And, it seems it is hard not to be won over by Luz's charm, with Richard Gaisford, a GMTV reporter who spent most of last year in the Algarve covering the McCann story, saying he liked the town so much he wanted to take his family back. It's a view that Mr Gladwin echoes, saying it's hard not to fall in love with the scenery, pace of life and people in Luz.
media outside Portimão's Judiciary Police Station, September 2007
Since his visit in 2007, Mr Gladwin has headed back each year, seeing no drop off in tourism numbers in the town, apart from this year. "Luz was a bit less busy this year, but I think that is the same everywhere with the euro, because Brits are getting a lot less for their money."
Ms Teixeira agrees, saying the global economy has had more of an impact this year than any fears following the McCann case. "[I] have no doubt that the value of the pound must be a big factor," she said, adding: "In particular, we found that clients from the UK were systematically asking for discounts this year."
This was seen last month when the Ocean Club released a ten per cent discount for bookings in October at the Star of the Light and Village Bay resorts in Luz.
Figures from the UK's Office for National Statistics for the 12 months to June 2009 stated that there was a ten per cent drop in Brits heading abroad, compared to the same period the previous year, while those taking a break in the UK rose.
So, it seems the recession may have had more of an impact than the McCann case and Ms Teixeira adds that if it is sea, sun and golf courses you are after: "Portugal generally, and the Algarve especially, has plenty to offer all holidaymakers."