Braga is an authentic city with endogenous resources that make a difference at a patrimonial, natural and immaterial level as a result of the various events that mark the life of the city throughout the year. These resources make it possible to respond to the current trend in tourism that is related to the demand for genuine experiences.
Following the quest for a sustainable and inclusive development model of tourism growth, Braga will never assume itself as a “Theme Park”, making available to those who visit us the same experiences and resources that guarantee, in first instance, the quality of life of the residents.
As it is statistically proven, tourism in Braga has given an exponential leap in the last 9 years, measured by the number of visitors, overnight stays, revenue, investments in the sector and creation of new companies and projects.
From a strategic point of view, in close collaboration with local and national agents of the sector (here with special emphasis on the Regional Entity of Tourism of Porto and North and the Tourism Association of Porto and North, ATP, whose Board of Directors we are part of the last years), the Municipality of Braga has strongly invested in promotion, in the quality improvement of the tourism offer, and in the training of professionals in the sector.
In terms of national and international attractiveness, Braga was a diamond that really needed to be cut, that is, to make itself known in all its potentialities. The work on promotion that started in the autumn of 2013, today considered as normal and sustained, was based on a set of initiatives carried out in partnership with various agents of the region and which culminated with the award of “Best European Destination” in 2021. On that occasion, we collected 109,902 votes from internet users, consolidating us as a destination of excellence and a reference in international tourism, after having already been considered the Second Best European Destination in 2019. From the total number of votes in the City of Braga, 72% referred to participants outside the national territory, a sign that demonstrates Braga’s projection at an international level.
The affluence of visitors to the Braga Tourism Office is one of the main indicators of tourist demand. This year, the number of visitors (about 300,000 by the end of August) is gradually approaching the 2019 figures, which marked a historical record. In terms of source markets, Portugal, Spain and France remain the most representative. The United Kingdom, Brazil, the Netherlands, Italy and the United States are other significant markets.
In 2019, Braga registered a tourist growth above the national average, being the best tourist year ever with about 640,000 overnight stays. The increase of Braga’s brand notoriety, inside and outside Portugal, was a clear municipal bet. The goal has been to increase the number of tourists, the length of each stay, and their distribution throughout the year. In this effort, the municipality’s tourism professionals have been fundamental in achieving these goals: planning and promoting Braga as a destination, supporting the sector’s entrepreneurs, and attracting new investors and tourism development.
For the international recognition of the destination were also fundamental the distinctions of Bom Jesus as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, where from the first moment we were involved with all our energy; the classification of Braga as a UNESCO Creative City in Media Arts; the hosting of the European City of Sports in 2018 or the Atlantic Axis Capital of Culture in 2020/21; in addition to investments in equipment such as the Municipal Market and the Altice Forum Braga.
Business Tourism and events, as well as a bold cultural strategy, have thus assumed a growing importance in combating the tourist seasonality and the attraction of increasingly differentiated and qualified audiences.
The Tourism Office, which began operating with extended hours – including weekends and holidays – was distinguished with Tripadvisor’s Travelers Choice 2020, an award it had already received in 2017 and 2019. Also the renowned British publication ́The Luxury Travel Guide ́ distinguished Braga as “European Heritage Destination of the year 2017”.
In addition to the works carried out in the Tourism Office in Central Avenue, the Tourism Shop at the Train Station was opened, and the creation of a Tourism Office in Sameiro was supported.
In this period, several relevant international publications have given Braga visibility as a destination of choice, with special emphasis on City Breaks and Senior Tourism. In these years, several reports and documentaries on Braga’s tourist resources were also produced, especially directed to the Brazilian, French, Spanish and British markets.
In 2020, the months of January and February saw the best year ever in terms of demand, due to the planning and forecasting of major events and congresses scheduled in the various multicultural spaces of Braga. For obvious reasons, 2020 was a completely atypical year and, with the first confinement, the focus of the Municipality was centered on the support to the professionals of the sector, carrying out a constant strategy of communication regarding the support options to entrepreneurs, informing and clarifying how they could develop their activity given the imposed restrictions.
Accompanying specialized journalists, influencers and tour operators on press trips is another task and investment carried out along with the permanent renewal of tourism materials such as itineraries, maps and applications.
The promotion of a greater interaction between visitors and the city led to the availability of the Visit Braga app and website, taking advantage of the increasingly expanded infrastructure of the free WI-FI Braga access network, as well as the production of several promotional videos.
The internationalization of Braga Municipality has been reinforced by being present at multiple national and international tourism fairs, such as Fitur – International Tourism Fair of Madrid; Navartur – International Tourism Fair of the Kingdom of Navarra in Pamplona; Xantar – International Gastronomic Tourism Fair, Ourense; Salon des Vacances at Brussels Expo in Brussels; B-Travel Fair in Barcelona; Salon Mondial du Tourisme in Paris; Expovacaciones in Bilbao; Turexpo Galicia – Galicia Tourism Fair – Spain; World Travel Show, Warsaw Tourism Fair – Poland; Intur – Valladolid Tourism Fair – Spain; Comptoir Helvetique in Lausanne in Switzerland.
Also worth noting was the creation of the Tourism Development Advisory Council, the promotion of the Tourism Galas and the Tourism Forum, as well as informal initiatives to select tourist agents.
A special note goes for the collaboration with the training entities, from the Braga Regional Center of the Catholic University to the various Professional Schools that train resources in this domain.
It is also important to mention the important role that we had, and still have, in the promotion of the Way of St. James (Caminhos de Santiago) along the governmental and cultural entities on both sides of the border, but also investing more than 150.000€ in the signage and qualification of the routes that cross Braga.
Braga has also tried to contribute to a greater articulation of the Minho Municipalities through the Minho Innovation consortium, and to a growing promotion of the sharing of tourist resources between the North of Portugal and Galicia, through the Atlantic Axis.
At the international level, Braga was part of the URBACT ‘Tourism Friendly Cities’ network and was invited by the World Tourism Organization to put together the report that was to be presented in 2023 on best practices.
Proof of the tourism success are the new hotels, the refurbishment of the existing ones, the exponential growth of the local accommodation offer, where we went from 19 registers in 2015 to the current 530, as well as the countless restaurant spaces that increasingly reinforce Braga as a destination of excellence in eno-gastronomy.
Braga has been able to conciliate the development of the tourism sector, with the needs of those who live here, since this same growth has not led to the desertification of the historical center and has not been a constraint factor for the local citizens. We have shown a welcoming spirit and the local Bracarenses have integrated themselves in this increasingly multicultural and cosmopolitan reality, a result of the many tourists coming from various international markets choosing to visit the city.
This is yet another demonstration that Braga is presenting itself as a dynamic pendulum that is driving the sustainable development of the region.