Martinhal Group’s Chitra Stern on hospitality updates and travel trends in Portugal: Travel Weekly

Amy Stewart

Known for its family-friendly amenities and accommodations, luxury hospitality brand Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts has established a strong foothold in its home market of Portugal, where the company currently has four hotels and resorts across Lisbon and the Algarve. Hotels editor Christina Jelski recently caught up with Martinhal’s founder and CEO, Chitra Stern, to talk about Portugal’s tourism rebound, the upcoming debut of Martinhal’s fifth property and which markets could be ripe for international expansion.

Chitra Stern

Q: With Portugal and other European markets having now eased their Covid restrictions, what are you seeing on the booking front?

A: The first two months of the year have been so busy in our reservations department, with bookings coming in from all over. It’s been a great start to 2022, I must say. And what’s really interesting is that while there’s a lot of last-minute and medium-term travel, with people booking for May or June, some people are booking all the way out into October. So, we’re seeing a bit of both [short-term and long-term bookings]. It’s a complete shift in travel pattern patterns, which is wonderful to see. Obviously, a large part of our business has traditionally been and will continue to be European, but we are seeing a lot of Americans booking, too. Pre-pandemic, there was a lot of investment in new air routes between the U.S. and Lisbon, and those efforts haven’t gone to waste.

That said, it will take some time to build our business back to how it was in 2019, which was Portugal’s best year ever for tourism. We think it’ll come back to how it was by 2023 or 2024. But before this year’s over, I think we’ll see at least 80% of what we had in 2019.

Q: Have traveler habits shifted in any way in this pandemic-era landscape?

A: Yes, especially when it comes to long-haul travel. People traveling long-haul used to want to do, say, Spain and Portugal in one go. But now I’m seeing more people choosing Portugal, and not tacking it on as a second country or, in some cases, a third country. They’re spending a longer time here. People want less complex, more authentic and safer travel experiences. And between the north and south of Portugal, you can get a nice mix of everything — outdoor activities, beaches, wine country, good dining, etc.

Q: Can you talk a bit about Martinhal’s expansion efforts?

A: We’re opening a fifth property, Martinhal Residences, later this year, which will also be our third property within the Lisbon area. It’s a branded residences project, but it will also have hotel operations, with a restaurant, outdoor dining and indoor and outdoor pool areas, as well as all our family-oriented services. We’ve sold over 100 apartments now. And some of them are investment units, which will operate as hotel rooms. Overall, the project has 160 apartments, around half of which will be operated as a hotel. We expect it will attract longer stays, whether for people visiting, or for families that need a landing pad for coming and assessing Lisbon as a potential city to live in. We also expect to get some corporate stays.

As far as further expansion goes, there are no plans right now to sort of jump into a project abroad. With Portugal being a growing destination, there’s still so much scope here. We could do more Martinhals in Portugal before we go abroad. But our guests ask us all the time, “When are you going to do a Martinhal in the U.S.?” And Americans tell us that they’d love to travel through Europe with our brand. The way we would really look at expansion in the coming years, post-pandemic, is through franchise. You know, never say never, so I’d say growth through franchise into, say, the U.S. or the rest of Europe, would be the next step.

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