Lisbon and Azores: How to help local tourism companies while traveling is on hold

Photo by 🇨🇭 Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash

After 40+ days in self-isolation (I’ve lost track of time) I and others who have the privilege to stay at home are being bombarded with positive newsletters, lives on social media, webinars and zoom meetings in an attempt to maintain some normalcy, some sense of being busy, and a faint reminder of what a productive day used to look like.

While most of my clients have put me on hold (a sort of layoff for freelancers), other small businesses in the tourism industry had to let go most of their employees because they don’t know when (and if) they’ll rise again from the economic slump that lack of travelers provoked.

Over six months ago when I sat with a journalist from Vanity Fair to talk about overtourism in Lisbon and how I strongly believed digital nomadism would be the next wave to hit the Portuguese capital, boy was I dead wrong.

If there’s one thing I learned from all this is that we can’t predict the future in such a volatile industry as tourism and travel. But I also know that in the post-COVID-19 era (when it arrives) people will want to travel again. More cautiously, I’m sure. More sustainably, I hope. More intentionally, I suggest.

On this blog post, I’m focusing on my two homes: Lisbon and the Azores. Incidentally, that has been the gist for a while now and, despite my stubborn struggle against it, it will most likely be forever and for good.

I reached out on social media for companies to come forward but I understand this might be a touchy subject. This list isn’t closed, so if you know of more tourism companies that are pivoting their business beyond traveling outside drop me an email.

As for myself, I continue to write because writing stories (and the urge to share them) is what got me here in the first place, whether I’m traveling or not.

Devour Food Tours

Devour Food Tours began in Spain but had been expanding to other European cities (Lisbon included) for the past couple of years. Foodies who were already a fan of their tours were thrilled for the opportunity to have that same experience on different cities — food is always a great excuse to travel.

But then, in the blink of an eye, everything changed.

Co-founder Lauren Aloise shared her company’s survival growth process on an article on LinkedIn. How could a company of guided food tours, that depends on people (tourists, guides, and local business owners) and on personal contact, survive the impact of a pandemic which got most of the world on lockdown?

It was a simple matter of shifting the communication channel and going 100% digital (for the time being, of course).

They launched a digital cookbook Recipes from the Devour Tours Kitchen, where company employees and local partners share recipes of local dishes (some of Lisbon’s recipes are bacalhau à brás and pasteis de nata), a merchandise shop (for the Devour Tours’ groupies), and they sell gift certificates if you’d like to offer a tour to a close foodie of yours.

Devour Tours is also launching virtual tours and online experiences. One ticket per screen, so gather your family around the device of your choice to learn more about local cuisine in Lisbon, Barcelona, Paris, Rome, and London.

View this post on Instagram

❤️ We’re committed to making the right choice—even in a difficult time. Please read for important information about upcoming tours. ⁠ ⁠ Our core values are what have kept us going for the nearly nine years we’ve been devouring, and they’re what will drive us forward through this trying time. ⁠ ⁠ With that in mind, we’ve decided to put one of them—make the right choice—into practice, with the difficult decision to suspend all upcoming tours through April 30. ⁠ ⁠ Our mission has always been about bringing people from all corners of the world together over food and drink. Right now, we’re focused on a different mission: to do our part to stop the spread of COVID-19. That means we’re staying home and avoiding unnecessary public gatherings—and we encourage you to do the same.⁠ ⁠ Giving food tours is our passion—and the work that currently supports our staff of 25 people and 60+ freelance tour guides. But it’s clear that right now we must put the community first. ⁠ ⁠ If you have a ticket for May 1 or after, your tour is currently running as scheduled. Additionally, tickets for tours occurring on and after May 1 are available for purchase. We’ll keep you up to date in the event of any changes to this schedule.⁠ ⁠ We thank you for your understanding and compassion during these challenging times, and can’t wait to see you all once things have settled down. For more detailed information and updates, please head to the link in our bio. ⁠

A post shared by Online Food & Wine Tours (@devour_tours) on

Tripix Azores

Of all the destinations in Portugal, Azores will probably take the biggest hit. The archipelago was thriving as a tourism destination (and, yes, on some islands the numbers of tourists were starting to get higher than acceptable), getting ready for the very small window of opportunity for travelers (May to September), and all came to a halt.

Of course, every destination in the world is currently struggling with this but the meaning of struggle in the Azores is bitterer. I won’t delve into that now.

Tripix Azores, a tour company on Pico Island that hosts guided experiences including climbing the highest mountain of Portugal, has also resorted to selling merchandise: t-shirts and caps with their logo and Pico-inspired designs and memes.

Check this post on Tripix Azores’ Facebook Page to find out how to order. As far as I could tell, they are shipping internationally.

Secret City Trails

Founded by Wendy and Kristina, Secret City Trails started with a few games in a couple of cities and now they have pretty mushroomed all over Europe (and I’m crossing my fingers for them to take over the world).

I’ve played two games in Lisbon with other members of Lisbon Travel Massive and not only did we always have a great time, but we completely lost track of time. How’s that saying, time flies when you’re having fun?

Well, although you can’t go out in the city to try these games out, take a test run with one of these free games that you can do from home. It’s a great way to get used to the mechanics of the game and the user experience, and you also learn something.

And after all goes back to whatever normal will be, you can go out for a game in the city or gift it to someone — I’m sure there’s a friend who is struggling more through this quarantine (I have one and I just bought her a gift certificate) and could use a fun excuse to blow off steam when it’s over. The games are valid for 12 months after purchase.

The Rogue Historians

I met with Ian Sumpter, the co-founder of The Rogue Historians, in mid-February 2020 to talk about what was then a pet peeve of mine: the (so-called) free tours in Lisbon and other cities in Portugal.

Wow, how that topic has completely dropped to the bottom of my list of things to write about and educate tourists.

At that time I left our meeting with an until-we-meet-again farewell, planning to go on the Dark Heart of Lisbon tour in the spring when the weather would be slightly warmer.

When I reached out to companies on Tripper’s Instagram, The Rogue Historians had good news: they are going to launch paid live online tours, the first being City of Spies. Please note that these are live tours, not pre-recorded because interaction is key.

Here’s a summary of what the tour is about:

“City of Spies: Lisbon during WWII – Lisbon played a pivotal role in WWII despite not a single gun being fired here. A route for Jewish refugees, and tonnes of Nazi gold, and not to mention spies from all over the world. Dive into the murky waters of wartime Lisbon.”

Once I have more details on how to book it, I’ll add it here. In the meantime, you can follow The Rogue Historians on Facebook and on Instagram for the updates.

Museu de Lisboa – Galerias Romanas da Rua da Prata

The underground Roman Galleries in Lisbon are perhaps one of the most coveted attractions in the city, which stems from the fact that they usually only open twice a year (the logistics of opening this attraction to the public are quite complex).

Lisbon City Council was working on improving access to the galleries, in a way that would allow the ruins to be open all year round. For now, the project is on hold for obvious reasons, but they released a 3D virtual tour.

If you’ve never been, this is a great way to finally visit it.

A crack on the ground that dates back to the 1755 Great Earthquake
A crack on the ground that dates back to the 1755 Great Earthquake

Preserve.pt

This website in Portuguese (one of the projects of #tech4COVID19, a movement of 5000+ people: engineers, designers, marketers, health professionals, and others) allows users to support their favorite local businesses by buying vouchers.

The vouchers are valid for 24 months but the business gets the money from that sale immediately, and that makes all the difference.

Go to www.preserve.pt and select your city and the type of business. Their list is still growing and I believe more and more local businesses will want to be a part of it as awareness around this project grows.

Lisbon Cooking Academy

I partnered with Lisbon Cooking Academy in the past, reviewing two of their experiences: Pastel de Nata class and Market Experience. Both were hands-on activities with the right dose of humor and good old Portuguese hospitality. I’m certain the founder, Chef Ana Viçoso, will be able to be her true self online too.

You can book a LIVE on-line Pastel de Nata Class, via Zoom, straight from the Lisbon Cooking Academy kitchen to yours.

The final result of our Lisbon Cooking Academy Portuguese pastry class

And how is Visit Portugal handling the impact of the pandemic?

I must say I’m surprised at how quickly and creatively Visit Portugal reacted when it was clear the coronavirus was spreading in the country, in early March.

The government acted swiftly with daily press briefings and measures that were explained step by step to the Portuguese, specifically which measures would take place in which scenario. One of those measures would be (and eventually was) shutting all borders and forcing every passenger to a two-week quarantine, halting all unnecessary traveling.

Before that measure was even a reality, Visit Portugal was launching a campaign urging fans of the country and travelers to not come here, for the time being. Using archive footage and a voice-over actor, the video was pieced together by employees working from home.

A tourism organization telling tourists not to come to a destination? That takes courage. And vision.

More recently, on World Book Day (April 23), Visit Portugal launched another campaign (Read Portugal) focusing on Portuguese literature and how you can visit this country through its books and authors.

Not only do I agree with them, but I encourage travelers to read about Lisbon and the Azores before, during, and after their trips.

One of my favorite independent bookstores in Lisbon is Palavra de Viajante, a shop that only sells travel books (not just travel guides), and you can order their books online. Connect with them on Facebook and tell them what you’re looking for.

(A word of advice: when I go to Palavra de Viajante it’s always a trip down the rabbit hole and it’s impossible to leave without at least one book!)

For more independent bookstores in Lisbon (and the rest of the country) check out RELI – Rede de Livrarias Independentes. The website is in Portuguese but it’s easy to understand. Just scroll down to Livrarias, if you’re looking for a specific bookstore, or click Procuro um livro, if you’re looking for a specific book — this will open a page with a contact form where you can specify the book you’re looking for among other important details to get timely feedback.

In the meantime, armchair travel is the best kind of tourism you can do right now.

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