Low-cost airlines boost green travel to the Azores
No longer a pipe dream for nature lovers on a budget, travel to the Azores’ lush forests, lakes, volcanic craters and whale-watching spots has been given a major boost by the debut of low-cost airlines in March.
Since April, the Ponta Delgada airport in the Atlantic archipelago’s capital of 250,000 residents has seen 33.6 percent more passengers than the same period last year. The hotel business is booming too, with a 35.2 percent jump in revenues.
Previously, travelers wanting to partake in whale- and dolphinwatching off the Portuguese islands had to travel on far costlier national and regional airlines to reach the Azores.
“I have long dreamt of the Azores. A friend told me about the new low-cost flights and I flew here for 100 euros ( US$110),” beamed Italian tourist Pamela Massi, 33, marveling as she watched a group of dolphins playing with the bow of her speedboat in the clear blue water below.
“It really is a special place, and the nature here is beautiful,” Massi, an environmental engineer, said off the coast of Sao Miguel, the largest of the Azores’ nine islands.
No Mass Tourism
“We were in New Zealand last year, and for two days we looked in vain for whales,” said Tineke Intzveld, a Dutch traveller in her 60s.
“Here you see them just 15 kilometers (nine miles) from the coast!” she said, overjoyed to be so near a group of sperm whales, the world’s largest toothed predators.
The influx is good news for Futurismo, the company that organizes the sea excursions that became a local specialty after traditional whale hunts ended in 1986.
Commercial director Rosa Costa said Futurismo had long been waiting for low-cost airlines to start operating flights to the Azores, though it was “still too early” to measure their impact on a business that already takes in a million euros (US$1.1 million) a year.
“But no one here wants the area to become a mass tourism destination. The big challenge will be to set a limit to our capacity and stick to it,” said Costa, whose company takes up to 250 people a day out to sea to look for whales, dolphins and turtles.
At just two hours’ flight from Lisbon and four from the United States, the Azores were visited by 350,000 people in 2014, making it Portugal’s least-frequented region with just 2.1 percent of the southern European country’s tourism market.
(Above) Tourists walk between rows of Gorreana tea plantations on Sao Miguel island, in the Azores on June 3. (Right) Dolphins swim in the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Sao Miguel island in the Azores on June 2.