Pousadas de Portugal is 75 years old and to mark the event the President of the Republic presided over a celebration in the Palace of Queluz on Wednesday.
Portugal’s first Pousada, a "small unit with regional cooking," opened in Elvas in 1942 during the decades-long oppressive reign of Portugal's very own dictator, António de Oliveira Salazar.
The current President, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, spoke of the Pousada chain’s long and important history, saying that until the 1960s, Pousadas were unique examples of the presence State involvement in a mixed vision combining an authoritarian regime and tourist ambitions.
The Pousada hotels were dreamt up in the early 1940s by António Ferro, head of the National Propaganda Secretariat, who had the idea of creating hotels that were both rustic and genuinely Portuguese. The first unit, in Elvas in the Alentejo, was the first of what Ferro called "small hotels that look nothing like hotels."
This Pousada is no longer active but the chain grew as more as historic buildings were turned into hotels in 1950s under the new 'Historical Pousadas' brand with hotels in historical monuments and buildings, castles, convents and monasteries. The first Pousada created under this new designation was the Pousada do Castelo in Óbidos.
"Today, the big question is whether the open horizon has enduring, sustained conditions for the future,” said Rebelo de Sousa who concluded that the future looked rosy as the chain of hotels now is managed by the Pestana Group, which in September 2003 won a public bid for the sale of a chunk of Enatur's shares and an operator's concession.
Luís Castanheira Lopes, president of Pousadas de Portugal, took the opportunity at the celebration to highlight the role of the Pousadas de Portugal in "preserving heritage and affirming our culture” through the various hotels of the Pousada group.
Lopes also said the Pousadas de Portugal brand is one of the "most important" in the national tourism sector, adding that "Pousadas are a reference point in Portuguese Tourism,” and that “we are working to improve the Pousadas network in Portugal and its international appeal with a conviction this is a winning project."
The Secretary of State for Tourism also was at the party, as was as the President of Turismo de Portugal, a host of thirsty local councillors from areas where Pousadas are located, and tour operators keen to check out the improved standard of food and drink on offer now that a company that knows what it is doing is running the hotel chain.
It was not always so. In fact, the government was delighted to hand over the running of this hotel chain to a third party in 2003 after ten years of solid losses for the moth-eaten chain.
The Durão Barroso government decided to sell off 49% of Enatur's capital, as well as to hand over the management of the nation's Pousadas to Pestana after a free-to-enter contest.
The result of the sale is that the Pestana Pousadas Group is now owned by the Pestana Group (59.8%), Caixa Geral (25%), Oriente Foundation (15%) and two small company shareholders with 0.2% (Viagens Abreu & Portimar).
This category of State asset is far better managed by a commercial organisation specialising in hotel management and keen to make a profit, rather than by flabby management with no incentive to do more than turn up for work, as was the case.