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Porto Santo – A Treasure Chest of Opportunities

The effects  of the Covid-19 pandemic have had disastrous globally and islands such as Porto Santo have been hit even harder.  With a summer season that has been almost obliterated with lock down and a severe drop in tourism, the islands politicians have started to demand better treatment for the Porto Santeans and a slice of the economic pie.

Currently, Porto Santo, has an extremely limited economy and although an attractive eco-tourism destination, there are political rumblings requesting that the Madeira Free Trade Zone is extended to include Porto Santo, as a means of attracting economic development.  In addition, fears have been expressed that the island is suffering from a ‘brain drain,’ causing further socio-economic degradation.

This is all very true. But to attract investors, thinkers and entrepreneurs the island must also offer something with real appeal, and it has to be more than a Free Trade area. But what can it offer other than a sandy beach and a relaxing atmosphere.

The answer is a great deal.  All that is needed is a new approach and a willingness by entrepreneurs to take a long term view. Already the island has been pin-pointed as a potential eco-friendly power sourced island.  Experiments have been made with electric cars, and with a wealth of V2H (vehicle to house) technology Porto Santo could become the world’s first wind/solar powered island.

This of course will cost money, but the advantages will outweigh the costs, especially as the installation, running and maintenance of the system will create jobs for all educational levels of society.

Similarly, a biosphere should be turned into a eco-sphere as the island’s natural assets and resources need to be protected. But at the same time, these assets should be used as a way of attracting more visitors to the island.  The surrounding ocean represents one such opportunity. The sinking of more wrecks off the coast would encourage greater marine diversity as would the creation of artificial reefs and in time create more potential diving sites for access by both novice and experienced divers. With careful management, these opportunities could be extended as more and more marine life is attracted to the area, and perhaps facilitate more extreme diving experiences such as cage diving with sharks, whales, turtles, and dolphins. Not only would these appeal to visitors, but also marine specialists.

The island’s sands are repeatedly hailed as therapeutic, and with this natural gift on hand, the island could become a well-being destination, especially for the elderly during the winter months.  With waiting times of up to a year in the UK to see a dentist, health tourism could greatly benefit the island.  further, hotels would then remain open for the winter season, offering discounted rates for those whose stay is a duration of weeks/months rather than 7-14 days, and, essential services such as dentists and medical specialists would be able to offer a wide provision of non-invasive services. Furthermore, clinics, especially those dealing with addictions, could be created, providing a lifeline for those in need whether in Madeira or abroad.

In addition to health benefits additional tourism, especially during the winter months, would create further opportunities for the islands and Madeira’s entertainment industry. Hotels could offer a range of entertainments appealing to a wide variety of tastes be it tribute bands, show time, music from films ballroom dancing to name but a few. By providing good and varied entertainment the island would be providing health care benefits and fun for those who want to feel good and enjoy themselves.

Being flat, the island is perfect for those suffering from mobility problems, providing much needed respite for those with debilitating conditions and their carers. In addition, the islands wide paths and engaging terrain make it a haven for those who want to exercise more, but are restricted in the type of activity they can do.  Furthermore, the island has an excellent golf course, tennis club and courts, horse riding facilities allowing the more adventurous and able bodied to take part in a wide variety of activities.

More local activities could be engaged upon, such as viniculture and vineyards.  Vintners are already experimenting with different grape varieties, and these, if they prove successful could lead to a new  opportunities and the possible creation of commercial vineyards, which could then open to the general public throughout the year for wine tasting, while special provisions can be made during the harvest so that people can be involved in the traditional forms of picking and treading the grapes.

With a wealth of musical talent on both island’s, Porto Santo could make a perfect recording studio location.  It’s general quietness and somewhat limited accessibility would make it perfect for bands and solo artists to write and record and also benefit both islands session musicians, technicians, support services and staff. The designs can be state of the art, you only have to look at Sanctuary Studio in Nassau, Bahama’s to realise how musical dreams could become a reality for a whole new generation of artists from all around Europe.

Not only would specific entities benefit, the island would benefit as a whole.  With a larger ‘visitor’ population, shops, tourist companies, bars and restaurants would benefit and although there would be larger demands for natural resources, such as water, greater affluence would enable money to be invested in the islands infrastructure and the creation of environmentally friendly power sources and desalination plants.

Of course, to create any or all of these facilities will take a great deal of money and vision, but it could be done provided the right person or group of people took a long term view of how they could tap into the island’s valuable resources and infrastructure, while creating a sustainable and eco-friendly economy. Furthermore, it would provide lasting employment benefits for a whole cross section of society, thus benefiting everyone rather than just a handful.

Samantha Gannon

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