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E se domani, e sottolineo il se...When the elephant comes on the scene...

When the elephant comes on the scene…

in all languages and in all local dialects there are expressions to define uselessness, the waste, the outrage of public utility. These are different and articulated expressions that find no meaning in purely literal translation.In English “the white elephant” means something very big and very useless. In Eastern religions it is a dream.  In the experience of Francisco Dias and Moondo’s editorial staff, as you can see from the pictures, “the white elephant” is not so rare.

(pitch from the “white elephants of Europe” project)

By Francisco Dias

I’m the mahout Luís Silva. I have a good business idea, and I want to be a successful young entrepreneur in the tourism business. But I need to finance my project. And I was told that the best way to get it would be to do a pitch and present it in the idea contests for young entrepreneurs…

This is my pitch:

The business idea is a national tour focused on a new type of tourist attraction: the “white elephants of tourism”. And I intend to test the business concept in Portugal, so the name of this first tour is “mamut-tour.pt”. The prefix “mamut” suggests the idea of mammoth, which is very easy to pronounce, and is easily associated with the notion of white elephant. The suffix “.pt” identifies the country where the tour will take place and also suggests a connection to smart tourism, as an App will be created for tourists to know the genealogy of each white elephant included in the tour.

If the test of this business concept will be successful, I´m planning to apply it to other European countries in the Mediterranean that have also excelled in breeding white elephants. I hope that my future company will prosper with the following brands: “mamut-tour.es”, “mamut-tour.it”, “mamut-tour.gr”, “mamut-tour.hr”, etc, one per country. The expansion will be gradual, but if everything goes as desired I will soon be a successful young entrepreneur on a European scale.

Now I will describe the first tour, called “white elephants of tourism in Portugal”, which will be a way of getting to know Portugal from north to south, passing through the following tourist attractions: Transparent Building in Oporto, Municipal Stadium of Aveiro, Municipal Stadium of Leiria, Atlantic Pavilion  in Lisboa, Beja International Airport and Algarve Football Stadium. This is a new national route that invites to an original interpretation of the architectural heritage along the coast of the Lusitanian homeland. We can also call it “the patriotic route of volunteering of central and local governments”. I say “patriotic route” because all six attractions were created in the context of major national plans for tourism development. And I say ” volunteering of central and local governments” because it took a great deal of public volunteering and a lot of lethargy from citizens for such white elephants to be fertilised in ministerial offices and then to be given light where the storks of power wanted to put them.

As you’ve noticed, half the attractions included in the tour are football stadiums! But don’t think that the idea of this tour is to take tourists to watch football. No! In this tour we offer visits to stadiums that were built for Euro 2004 and then never had use, with very rare exceptions, and that are located in strategic places at the entrance of the cities, to remind all travellers that Portugal is known worldwide as the country of 3F: Fado, Football and Fatima. Yes, besides Fatima (which we can also include in this national tour), the Portuguese “Fado” is Football. But here the word Fado should be taken in its original meaning: “fate”. This means that the fate of the Portuguese is really football. Not exactly the football that is played on the field, because it rarely has quality, but the business, the negotiations and the strokes that are made around football. And these three stadiums have been there for 16 years as genuine white elephants, a kind of monument to the waste of public funds, decided and promoted by illustrious elected representatives, to whom the Portuguese never asked for an account and instead continued to renew their vote.

Through the “mamut.tour.pt” project App, yopu can find out what the total cost of the stadiums was, including the construction phase and the annual costs with maintenance expenses. But as the world is made of change (as said Camões), it’s time to look at these important architectural resources as core assets of a new tourism product, a bit like what is being done with industrial tourism. The difference is that industrial tourism uses obsolete facilities and old machinery, adapted to museums, and giving them a second life. In the case of the 3 stadiums, even in a phase of degradation, it will be the first time they will have a systematic and constant use. And that’s why I think this project deserves to be supported by Portuguese Tourism Authority.

Since this pitch has to be very brief, I suggest to those interested to consult the flyer and App, where I present a detailed description of the tour itinerary, and also a detailed sheet of each attraction: name of the architect, images of the construction, texts and photos of the inauguration ceremony, reasons for abandonment, etc. 

But I wouldn’t like to finish this pitch without mentioning the most famous attraction of “mamut-tour.pt”: the Beja International Airport. This was inaugurated on April 13, 2011, but it is not yet included in any air route, national or international. It’s a very interesting story, but as I have to finish this pitch here, I suggest reading the flyer I gave you earlier.

A white elephant watching the planes passing by…

(insert of the “white elephants of Europe” project)

The construction of Beja International Airport was one of the government’s counterparts in a failed large-scale tourism project in the protected areas of Alentejo, a kind of legal crime, designed to suit the interests of five or six national titans of the tourism industry. Legal crime? Yes! And that’s what makes this tourist attraction even more attractive. 

I will explain: in the first decade of this century, under the pompous name of Projects of “Potential Interesse Nacional” (PIN projects), the Portuguese government licensed several mega tourist resorts to be built in protected areas of the country. Mega resorts in protected areas? Contrary to the plans and regulations of the protected areas? Isn’t that a contradiction? That’s right! PIN projects enjoyed the status of exception and could be implemented in natural parks! The PIN statute, created in 2005, was granted by the government to projects that guaranteed 3 conditions: (1) investment of more than 25 million euros; (2) creation of more than 50 jobs; (3) environmental impact study. So, where is the illegality? Formally, nowhere… But if we look behind the scenes of power, we will know the following: the tourist industry titans and their friends in the government had previously arranged all the staging, long before the PIN projects legislation was presented, thus giving the industry titans time to buy many thousands of hectares in natural parks and other protected areas at a derisory price, because after all they were land where it was forbidden to build. If this kind of collusion and “inside trade” is not considered a crime, it is because its perpetrators are competent…

But where does Beja Airport come in here, anyway? I’ll explain: the plan foresaw two regional hubs for tourism development in Alentejo, where several mega resorts licensed as PIN projects would be set up: the Polo do Litoral Alentejano and the Polo do Alqueva (basically two territories dedicated to “residential tourism” – a euphemism for designating major real estate speculation operations disguised as tourism). Beja International Airport should be equidistant to these two regional residential tourism poles, making Alentejo the new Eldorado of Tourism in Portugal. But… behold, in 2008, the real estate bubble burst in the US, and the crisis  became more acute in successive waves until it was imperative to ask the IMF for help and accept the troika’s supervision. Then, in this exact context, private investments have all been frozen, because as is well known, good investors don´t like to lose money… As for the airport, which was one of the public counterparts to the general plan, its construction continued as if the world had not changed. And now this white elephant is looking to the sky waiting for planes or looking for someone who can to take care of him and feed him.

The white elephant thanks and leaves the scene…

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s hear it for the white elephant and his mahout Luís Silva! Congratulations for the burlesque and fun way in which you sketched a factual and accurate picture of unsustainable tourism behind the scenes in a small country in Europe.

Let’s talk now about a more serious record, since now have the floor the participants of a webinar held by Moondo about the state of the art in tourism at a time when the world has almost closed for balance!

In the face of the Covid 19 pandemic, when citizens around the world are questioning the foundations of a sustainable future for humanity, the online magazine www.moondo.info challenged a group of experts to present in a webinar session their views on the changes that must be introduced at global level to ensure the sustainability of the tourism industry and the planet.

The “pitch” of the mahout Luís Silva is a kind of abbreviated, although incomplete, version of the diagnosis of the unsustainability of tourism in southern European countries. And today there are in fact countless voices calling for an effective change in the models of organization and management of tourist destinations, for the empowerment of local communities who should be the main agents of this change.

Moondo’s webinar panelists started from this implicit diagnosis to outline proposals for effective changes in the tourism industry’s governance and management models.

Will a new generation of tourism planning and a new approach to sustainability issues at least mitigate the enormous social, economic and environmental damage of “toxic” tourism models that were dominant in the recent past? Bets are accepted!Below is an overview of the ideas expressed at Moondo’s webinar.  

Una nuova rubrica

Tra i molti dubbi che assillano la mia mente esattamente come la vostra in questi giorni una sola certezza credo di avere: quando torneremo alla vita di tutti i giorni, nulla sarà come prima. Stiamo affrontando una sfida che è riduttivo chiamarla organizzativa, è una sfida filosofica, è la visione del mondo che cambierà e sulla quale ci sarà da costruire il nuovo. “E se domani… e sottolineo “se” è una nuova rubrica che è aperta ai contributi di intellettuali, scienziati, artisti, uomini di cultura di tutta Europa. Seguiteci e mandate le vostre impressioni che pubblicheremo periodicamente con l’intendo di costruire una antologia delle idee.

Giampaolo Sodano

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