These days, Lisbon is gradually changing: municipal workers and employees from the 24 neighborhood councils are bustling with activity – inside their offices, finalizing plans; or on the streets, fixing showers, building temporary sanitary facilities, or working on the challenging task of cleaning the streets from August 1st to 6th for the World Youth Day (WYD).
This event is expected to bring a massive influx of people to the city (and neighboring municipalities) in a short and concentrated period: Lisbon’s population may triple, with estimated visitors reaching 1.5 million people.
However, during that week, the lives of the people living and working in Lisbon will be more limited. The day off for public workers in the city during the World Youth Day, communicated by the Government and Lisbon’s City Council, is being seen as an attempt to keep people away from the city.
This is just one of the first signs of the difficulties that those living and working in Lisbon may experience because of the Pope’s visit to Portugal. Additionally, for those working during these days, access to certain areas of the city will be dependent on presenting a declaration from their employer.
Moreover, what are usually the most tranquil days in the city (with less traffic and a significant portion of the population on vacation outside the municipality) may become the most bustling and chaotic.
To estimate the potential economic impact of the event on the city, the consulting firm PwC considered a reference spending of 65% of the average tourist expenditure in Lisbon.
For registered pilgrims, total expenses are estimated to be between 47 million and 69 million euros, and for non-registered pilgrims, it’s estimated to be 49 million to 73 million euros.
The PwC study, released this month, indicates the presence of up to 328,000 registered pilgrims who are not residents of Portugal.
However, the total number of pilgrims and visitors may exceed the value of registrations significantly since registration is not mandatory. According to the consulting firm, the number of non-registered pilgrims may range from 340,000 to 415,000.
Tiago Quaresma, Vice President of the Portuguese Hospitality, Restaurant, and Similar Association (AHRESP) (and co-founder of Mensagem), believes that “the biggest misconception of the event has to do with the calendar.” He considers that the event does not increase the demand already registered in the restaurant and hospitality sectors in Lisbon and points out some factors that may lead to less economic enthusiasm with the large event.
“There was already significant demand, not only in Lisbon but throughout the country, and the event only replaces the demand with less qualified customers. In this aspect, I have doubts about the direct benefit for the city and the entire territory.”
The impact of the event on commerce, both in the country and in the Lisbon Metropolitan Area, may not be as auspicious as initially thought. “In Lisbon, there will be some substitution effect, but in other places, the WYD will dry up the commerce in the middle of August. I believe that rent-a-cars and hotels will benefit, but commerce will suffer.”
According to Tiago Quaresma, the purchasing power of event visitors is lower than the one they will replace: of the usual tourists during this time of year.
“It’s simple: there was already consumption, consumption was already here. Now, we will exchange six people for half a dozen, but they will have lower purchasing power.”
While recognizing the “merit” of the event for “putting Lisbon and Portugal on the world map and bringing reputation benefits to the country,” he believes that the impact in Lisbon may be geographically uneven.
“The WYD, just like the Web Summit, brings an excessive concentration in certain areas of the city, and that is why areas like Sintra, Cascais, Belém, will lose out. The difference is that the Web Summit takes place in November, so the empty beds end up being occupied.” Now, there may be empty beds, both inside and outside of Lisbon.
Perhaps that’s why a hotel discount campaign was presented on last Wednesday by a hundred hotels across the country, in an agreement between the Portuguese Hospitality Association (AHP) and the WYD organization. Just a few days before the religious event, visitors of the WYD will be offered discounts of up to 20% on rates, described as a “treat.”
40.2 million invested by the city. What remains for later?
According to information provided by the municipality to Dinheiro Vivo, the Lisbon City Council will inject an additional 6.6 million euros into the overall budget of the event, making a total of 40.2 million euros – which is already 5.2 million more than the initial budget (35 million euros).
Overall it will be around 150 million euros, (80 milllions from the church, 30 milllions from the central state and the rest from the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures.
According to the same report, this extra funding is intended to improve the city’s urban hygiene – an investment that the City Council says will continue after the WYD.
However… what will the legacy be: once the Pope returns to the Vatican and the pilgrims leave the city, what remains for the people of Lisbon?
The biggest legacy will be the Tejo-Trancão Urban Park, a green space shared between the municipalities of Lisbon and Loures. For this space, which can host large-scale events and hundreds of thousands of people, an amount lower than the 21.5 million euros previously estimated by the municipality will have been invested, as the cost of the stage-altar has reportedly decreased by about 30%, from 4.2 million euros to 2.9 million euros.
The total investment in this green space includes:
- 7.1 million euros for the rehabilitation of the Beirolas landfill
- 4.2 million euros for the pedestrian and cycle bridge over the Trancão River, a project awarded by EMEL (Municipal Mobility and Parking Company)
- 3.3 million euros for sanitation infrastructure.
The bridge, like the park, will be a lasting asset for the city, but there are several other million euros spent on the installation of stages and temporary infrastructures, as well as costs borne by the parish councils, which may not have future use.
According to the mayor, Carlos Moedas, out of the initial 35 million euros invested, 25 million euros will stay in the city.
“With this opportunity, we were able to purchase equipment that will remain for the city. We spent seven million euros on the fire department, municipal police, and civil protection. We bought eight thousand trash containers that will stay in the city, and therefore, all this increase in the budget will remain for the city,” he explained to TSF radio.