A different landscape in Portugal - Torel Boutiques on adapting to change and the road ahead

Torel Boutique Palace Porto

This summer saw the return of travel to a degree, but changing restrictions and international uncertainty saw global tourism respond with caution.

In 2019, Portugal recorded almost 16.4 million tourist arrivals, an increase of almost 8 per cent on 2018, and this upward trajectory saw no sign of slowing down.

In 2020, after the pandemic hit, Portugal recorded only 4 million tourist arrivals. This reduction of almost 75 per cent has had a huge impact on a once thriving tourism industry and creative brands have had to adapt to survive.

We spoke with Ingrid Koeck, Business Partner and Communications Manager at the Torel Boutiques, to understand how they have remained agile this year and what they are preparing for in 2022.

It has been a challenging few years for the travel and hospitality industry, how have you and the team managed?

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, we have entered a new era of restrictions, unpredictability and constant change.

These past 18 months have served as a magnifying glass that has forced us to think more creatively and to test completely new waters.

At Torel Boutiques, we have always believed in change, in trying different ideas and creating new paths. We immediately responded to the situation as best we could - we created a Total Flexible Rate for our guests in the first instance.

1884 room Torel Boutiques

We managed to keep one hotel open in each city – Lisbon and Porto – while our other hotels went into hibernation, and we turned our attention to our social media community.

What has been the most challenging experience?

When the pandemic started in early March 2020, we had to close two properties in Porto though we made the decision to keep two properties within the collection open - Torel Avantgarde in Porto and Torel Palace Lisbon.

In Porto, we were the only five stay hotel open in the city for two and a half months.

It was important for us to show a sign of resilience, confidence, hope and determination.

It was essential for the Torel Boutiques collection to demonstrate to our guests and our entire team that we remain optimistic and available to welcome our regular guests as well as all those who, by lack of offer in the market, could find refuge in Torel in such a delicate moment.

During this period, we received guests who were taken by surprise, people who needed and were allowed to work (such as pilots or doctors) and people who simply wanted a change in their environment.

Contrary to what many people believe, the world has not stopped, even if it has slowed significantly.
Torel Avantgarde pool

The most challenging aspect was, and remains, the uncertainty and lack of control surrounding the pandemic. We understand it will remain like this for some time.

Where have you seen signs of optimism or growth?

We are noticing an immense appetite to travel – and I believe this is not despite, but as a result of Covid-19. Even in the midst of the pandemic, we saw that whenever people can travel, they do it. There is a desire to make use of time, and, more than ever, people are using these windows of opportunity.

Have you noticed changes in guest demand? If so, how have you managed to flex to support this?

People want to compensate for the time and experiences they have lost over the past 18 months and are willing to book the very best experience and spend more.

At the same time, people want to remain flexible in their booking behaviour because the situation simply remains unpredictable. We reacted to this demand early on by offering our Total Flexible Rate, which allows our guests to cancel their reservation until the day of arrival.

At the same time, we have upgraded our Torel Avantgarde and now offer more of the best rooms with a private bathtub and terrace that overlooks the river Douro.

Are there any positive changes you would like to see outlive the pandemic?

I believe we have come to realise an increased awareness about the shortness of life, and I do very much hope that we continue in this spirit.

What do you forecast for the industry for the coming year?

We are very optimistic about 2022 and we see this reflected in the whole industry. While the situation will remain uncertain to a degree, there is a will of both companies and clients to move on. With our positioning in the luxury segment, we are very much in demand for the client who is looking for the extraordinary.

Finally, what can we expect to see from you next year?

Now more than ever we are being challenged to live true to our philosophy and to test our resilience. We’re not trying to fight against our new reality - this is beyond our control.

We will continue to work on what IS under our control - to be present with our clients and our staff, and continue to exhibit hotels that bring personality and beauty into a world that is now more than ever full of despair.

Torel Avantgarde library

We are currently working on the expansion of two of our four hotels, namely Torel Avantgarde in Porto and Torel Palace Lisbon. Both spaces will open with more and improved spaces in the course of 2022.

We have new projects in the pipeline for 2023 and beyond – but it's too early to say anything detailed about this. Stay tuned!

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