Portugal’s Tourism Is on the Rise Thanks to Its National Airline’s Stopover Program

TAP is rolling out a new campaign

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If, over the past year or so, photos of friends posing on the streets of Lisbon or lying on the beaches of Porto have increasingly been populating your Instagram feed, you likely have Portugal’s national airline to thank.

TAP Air Portugal launched a stopover program in 2016 that lets travelers heading to destinations across Europe and Africa tack on a few days in Portugal at no extra cost. The airline has been marketing the program for over a year now, and with great results. Since it debuted its first stopover-centric campaign in 2017, passenger traffic from the U.S. to Portugal has doubled.

TAP Air Portugal’s service and Portugal itself have several natural selling points, from geographic convenience to sheer beauty, including sandy beaches, orange-roofed buildings and intricate tile displays, said Alex Monger, a business director for BBH NY, the agency behind TAP Air Portugal’s latest stopover campaign.

“It’s not only a really incredible country, but also a location, particularly with Lisbon, that can be so easily accessed from the states,” Monger said. “It’s the closest mainland European capital to the Eastern Seaboard, and it’s just a really easy destination for U.S. travelers.”

TAP Air Portugal launched a new campaign this fall surrounding the stopover program that Monger said is inspired by the country’s “vibrancy.” The ads are covered in side-by-side boxes intended to mimic the tiles Lisbon is famous for featuring destinations in Portugal and across Europe illustrated in Portugal’s national colors: red, yellow and green. Cartoon videos that will run on Hulu give a nod to the short flight time, suggesting that “you could shop rugs online for six hours and never buy a rug, or you could fly to Portugal.”

The campaign leans heavily on out of home, with ads appearing on New York City cabs and a mural in Brooklyn. “One of the big objectives is raising TAP’s profile in the states,” Monger said. “And these big landmark pieces have really done that.”

Before the program even started, Portugal already was on a six-year streak of record tourism growth. That continued in 2017, when tourist arrivals grew by 12 percent and hit a new record. And it’s been a major financial boon for a country that went through an economic crisis at the start of the decade and where the tourism industry provides 1 million direct or indirect jobs. 

“Portugal as a destination is really growing and has been for a few years now; the Portugal tourism industry is really booming,” Monger said. “The stopover really leveraged that. It’s perfectly timed—the two things are happening in conjunction.” 

TAP Portugal's ads on top of a New York City taxi.

Stopover programs are becoming a popular way for national airlines to draw tourists to their countries. Iceland-based WOW air and Icelandair both offer stopovers in Reykjavik, for example; Finnair offers from five hours to five days in Helsinki; Air Canada gives international passengers the chance to stop in Toronto, Montreal or Vancouver; and KLM gives travelers the choice of a stopover in Amsterdam or Paris. The idea is that even a few-days-long layover will give people enough of a taste that they’ll want to plan a longer journey with that stop as their ultimate destination. Such programs are an especially appealing proposition for an American worker who might be short on vacation days.

“You really want to pack in as much as you can into the vacation, and the stopover is really great for that,” Monger said.

Icelandair’s program is perhaps the most famous. Started in the 1960s, it really took off in the past decade and contributed immensely to the country’s huge tourism boom. And while growth has slowed over the past year, arrivals to the country grew by a whooping 40 percent in 2016, and last year, Iceland hit 2 million tourists for the first time ever.

Though Portugal hasn’t quite hit those levels yet, the stopover is only helping cement its place on the map.

@dianapearl_ diana.pearl@adweek.com Diana is the deputy brands editor at Adweek and managing editor of Brandweek.