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.

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