· Personality · · T. Maria Cruz · P. ©PMC

André Jordan

«The country deserves a minister of exceptional class for tourism»

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Few seconds were required to be able to recognise the human beauty of this man, a man of unique intelligence. One of the doyens of tourism, in Portugal and in the world. André Jordan, chairman of the André Jordan Group, whose lined face expresses his wisdom, is recognised as the ‘King of Tourism in Portugal’ and the ‘Father of Quinta do Lago’. He welcomed us at Belas Clube de Campo and, in a simple and friendly manner, told us about his life, about tourism, about his countries and about his loves. He refers to himself as half Polish, half Brazilian and half Portuguese, yet there are no halves about him. Poland was his birthplace, Brazil welcomed him and his father, and Portugal was the destination that he chose to spend his life, since 1970. A life in which he has accomplished several projects, in which he wouldn’t change a thing, despite the mistakes he has made. And what’s the best thing about life? «Living is a miracle», Jordan says. He likes people who love and those who like him. In the past, he read fiction books, now he reads about politics and biographies, and likes to keep informed. He walks, swims, does gymnastics and loves spending time with his children and grandchildren. And why does he talk to the moon? «Because it is the star of loves».

Your life has been split between three countries (Poland, Brazil and Portugal). If you could go back in time, what would change in each of them?
That’s a very deep question. I would say that I wouldn’t be able to change anything, because changing the nature of peoples is very difficult. Sometimes I even joke, saying: Portugal changes, but the Portuguese don’t.

So the problem is with people?
People don’t change; they tend to stay as they are. For example, a lot has been done in Portugal, to put an end to or reduce bureaucracy, but everything is just the same. Made worse by the fact that, in well-established regimes, there is a central authority, and now, in this final phase of the Portuguese democracy, during the last 20 years, there hasn’t been much authority. Anyone reaching a position has their own policy; they don’t want to know what it was before and what it will be afterwards.

Mr. André Jordan is known as the ‘King of Tourism in Portugal’ and as the ‘Father of Quinta do Lago’. Do you like being referred to in that way?
I admit that it has contributed to the creation of a standard, of a benchmark for quality, not exactly through being the ‘father’, but through having set a level of quality that I think is reflected in many areas: in golf, in the restaurant industry, in urban planning and promotion. To be the ‘father’ you must first find the mother. (he laughs)

In the first-ever issue of Villas&Golfe magazine, 16 years ago, you said: «There are no desperate situations; there are gentlemen who become desperate». Do you still see it that way today? Does André Jordan ever despair?
No, I don’t despair, because it is like this: either the situation is man-made, i.e. caused by someone, and there is always a way to fix it, or to get to grips with the situation; or else it is caused by nature and there is nothing you can do. I mean: we are now seeing the floods in Florida and Texas, for example, and there’s nothing that can be done. As long as the rain keeps falling and the streets remain blocked, there’s nothing we can do. There’s no use despairing. On the contrary, the more people remain calm, the more likely they are to get to grips with the situation.

We know that you came to Portugal in 1970, only to never leave. What kept you, and still keeps you, here?
Above all else, the people. The Portuguese are good people. Good, generous people, with feelings; they’re not much into money, because usually the Portuguese are thrifty.
«The Portuguese are good people»

Do you enjoy working in Portugal?
It’s not easy to work here: because of bureaucracy, because of people abusing their power, it isn’t easy, but people are honest. And we have these exceptional cases, which have been happening recently, of major corruption, whether in the public or private sector.

Upright behaviour still prevails in Portugal?
It does, and more besides. Brazilians come here obsessed with safety, just as I did. Recently we started working with Brazilians clients and emphasized security, but it was not necessary because they quickly discovered that Portugal was safe. I’ve never been mugged, here or anywhere else, but, as I’ve already said, it’s not cool in Portugal to be a thug and dishonest; it doesn’t go down well.

What has changed in Portuguese tourism since you first arrived here?
There has been a major evolution. I’ll start with what hasn’t changed: there is still no recognition of the strategic importance of tourism to the economy and to Portuguese society. Recently we have had people in tourism, in Portugal, and in the government who don’t have the slightest notion of what it’s all about. There are people who are there for a week and think that they already know all there is to know. The evolution was almost spontaneous; the investment was practically all private; what has proved most important, and I’ve been saying this for decades, is the ‘Portuguese Style’ – it’s simple, it’s unpretentious, it’s comfortable and elegant, and it’s of good taste. There are people who don’t like it, and they go to Dubai, Ibiza, but anyone who likes an elegant and peaceful life, eating well, being well treated, loves Portugal. All the things that were criticised, even by foreigners, are now the source of its success.

If, right now, for reasons out of your control, you had to choose a country in which to spend the rest of your life, what would be your choice?
There’s no need to go there, or indeed anywhere, I’m already here.

Here to stay...
I came here to stay, and this is where I’ll remain. I’ve started, now that I’m older, to think about where I want to go. My mother was cremated (a barbaric practice), my father was buried in Rio de Janeiro - the cemetery is in the ugliest place in the world, not even a single tree. So I thought: I don’t want there to go anywhere. I’ve spent half my life in the municipality of Loulé. I’ve been happy. So I want to stay here, but, then, bureaucracy came into it. I went to the municipal mayor, then to the parish mayor, but there was a problem: the cemetery was full and the extension under construction was the subject of an ongoing legal dispute with the contractor. About four years passed and, finally, they found a plot for me. We signed the contract. I asked an architect friend of mine to design a tomb, with room seven people. Something nice, modern, peaceful, nothing flashy, with a see-through dome on top.

You are a man with amazing knowledge of tourism - a word currently on everyone’s lips. What kind of tourism do we have in Portugal?
Without a shadow of a doubt, it is as follows: Portugal needs, the Portuguese economy needs tourism, and it also needs tourism that is associated with real estate. Tourism is essential; there is no coordinated strategy aimed at attracting tourists. The strategy involves events, regular attractions, in addition to ‘visiting’. There is no coordinated promotion among entrepreneurs - they had to join together in groups to schedule regular events international promotion, every year -, this exists all over Europe. How is it that when someone comes to Lisbon there’s no trace of the Discoveries; there’s nothing about history? And people complain because this is something they know about Portugal. We have to have a strategic, Non-governmental Tourism Promotion board, composed of people who are not from the sector but who are interested in the sector and have great experience. For example, there is one gentleman, Ricardo Monteiro, who was chairman of Havas advertising agency - one of the largest in the world - and who loves tourism. And there’s Carlos Melo Ribeiro, former chairman of Siemens, also a fan of this matter as being vital for the development of Portugal, in addition to foreigners such as Jean-Claude Baumgarten, former chairman of the World Travel & Tourism Council – WTTC, a body bringing together the main companies in the world from this area. With him we created the World Travel and Tourism Summit, which joins major entrepreneurs from the sector with government tourism authorities from around the world. The first event was in Portugal and today it is the main world tourism forum, held every year in another country, with the support of UNWTO. It is vital that tourism is at part of important decisions.
«It is vital that tourism is at part of important decisions»

With this tourism boom, does quality tourism also include ‘Local Accommodation’?
‘Local Accommodation’ has proved a failure of coordination of interests, because it should have been negotiated between three parties: tourism itself, the real estate sector and the tourism sector. One thing I suggested, and which is now changing, is the fact that ‘Local Accommodation’ have to pay slightly more condominium fees than permanent residents. This has already alleviated many things. Anyhow, there have to be rules.

But, for example, a large number of regeneration projects are being made with little regard to quality. Does the mistake lie in there being no one to control this?
The builders’ lobbying managed to get the government to deregulate normal safety rules. There are quality projects, but some are taking advantage of the huge increase in demand, which could lead to problems. 

Portugal is increasingly safe, stable, has an excellent climate, resorts, golf courses... In your view will this excessive demand in real estate and tourism continue?
Portugal has really had its virtues discovered: peace, climate, security and good food. We will need developments to the extent that foreigners, who initially only came through tourism, now also come for business. It is something to be discussed and advised upon by that strategic council I was suggesting. There should be support offices for companies moving to Portugal to help them integrate. There will be more construction, greater demand for developments. I see, for example, in the area immediately south of the Tagus, a potential zone for creating developments.

You recently launched ‘Lisbon Green Valley’ at Belas Clube de Campo. Is it a special project?
We have a country club, which offers leisure and housing and is 15 minutes from the centre of a capital city (Lisbon). There is nothing like it elsewhere in the world. I myself lived here, before going to Lisbon and now I’m coming back. Here there is no pollution, there is no noise, and it is very close.

You have been involved in the construction of several golf courses. We have world-class golf courses. Nevertheless, they are focused in the Algarve and Lisbon. Should we not expand course locations to the rest of the country, for example, inland?
No. I’ll explain why. In the Algarve, 90% of golfers are foreigners and, in Lisbon, 10% are foreigners. There are very few national players. Unfortunately there has been no joint effort between promoters, the state and the Portuguese Golf Federation to develop golf in Portugal. Inland there are no players, and tourists don’t go somewhere with only one course; they want to play several courses that are easy to get to. To them to exist there would have to be a golf culture, which does not exist.

In life, as in golf, have you always hit the right shots?
No. I’ve hit myself. I’ve made many mistakes. To get it right, you must also be in an emotional state that allows your reasoning to work. (he laughs)

And this isn’t always the case?
Not always. When I came here, after a troubled life and the death of my father, tourism already existed, and was already beginning to succeed. I also contributed to the tourist developments of the Algarve not being nationalized. At that time, we proposed a plan to the government to support the developments, for them to survive and not be nationalised. The government accepted, but then the unions and the bankers wanted to support the plan, but demanded that the management be kicked out. To save the development and the jobs we had to leave. We drew up an authorisation, from the management of our company, for the workers commission to manage the company, because otherwise the company would go down for lack of money. A few years later, we were called to resume our position. Tourism was saved.
«Local accommodation has proved a failure of coordination of interests»
You’re a centre-left man. What do you think about the ‘geringonça’ parliamentary coalition?
I’m a social democrat; I am in favour of free enterprise, and at the same time social support measures. I think the geringonça is a political resource that came to incorporate the so-called ‘arc of governance’. Two influential parties, but unable to get to power. But, I am in favour of a general agreement, with all parties, on a national programme of economic development and consolidation. Ideological politics is dead; it’s over, so much so that we elected an almost  post ideological president. Marcelo is the world’s first president, who, even if he has ideological ideas, has abandoned them for practical purposes. He is an example, curious and unexpected, of an almost post ideological politician.

On the one hand, we have the man with social concerns; on the other we have the businessman. How do you ‘manage’ political ideas?
I have had situations of being at a dinner or lunch - for example, for the election of Mário Soares and of Diogo Freitas de Amaral, of whom I was and am a friend - and each of the 40/50 people are in favour of Freitas de Amaral and, when I said I was for Mário Soares, the least they said was «You’re not Portuguese». They were all furious; any worse and they would have thrown me out. There are people in my social sector, who are very right-wing and very conservative, and they think that anyone who isn’t like that is a communist.

Is that not the case?
No, of course not. I’ve always been very independent.

Do you believe that tourism in Portugal will continue to be the country’s main economic activity / source of revenue?
It is already. And this isn’t recognised. We can have new technologies, industries, such as the textile or footwear, etc., contributing to the country’s economy, but the only activity that can really generate major revenue is tourism and tourism-related real estate.

What measures should the state and entrepreneurs take?
It depends on a greater coordination of strategy between the state and the private sector, to carefully analyse the tax aspect, to see what measures can be taken, without harming the country. The country deserves a minister of exceptional class for tourism.

Do you agree with the tax applied in Lisbon to tourists? They also want to implement this in Oporto. In your view, should it cover the whole country?
I agree. It doesn’t apply to the whole country because outside Lisbon, Porto, Algarve, Madeira and the Azores, there is no revenue.

Were you in favour?
I was. I was a member of the Advisory Council of the Association of Hoteliers of Portugal, when Fernando Medina went there to propose the tax. There was a great deal of noise, with everyone saying they were against it, but Medina listened, and listened, and when it came to an end he said: «Oh, but I’m going to apply the tax anyway». It has proved a success managed by a group made up of the council, Lisbon Tourist Board and AHP (Portuguese Hotel Association).

You’ve already been given awards for the best Tourism Real Estate Developer. You are a man who is proud of your career. Has there been any award that has stood out for you?
That’s a good question; no one has ever asked it before. The Mayor of Loulé gave me a gold medal from Loulé and told me: «This means nothing to you, you have so many awards». I replied: «To be recognised by the people of this you really think it means nothing to me?» Of course it does. Each award has its value. I love receiving them.

What is the best thing in life, in your opinion?
Living is a miracle. Living life, in all its good and bad, but the very best is love. Love includes friendship, because friendship is a form of love. When you reach a certain point in your life, you appreciate it a lot. I really appreciate the people I like, who I love, and who like me.

What books do you like to read?
I am a compulsive reader, but I haven’t read fiction for many decades. I read, during my youth, all English, French, German, Brazilian and American fiction. I read many books on politics, biographies and am addicted to information. I read newspapers, I read magazines, I read on the Internet, I watch television, I have to know everything. I know more about Trump’s life than he does. (he laughs)

Is that how you fill your days?
It’s one of the main things. I spend a lot of time alone and if I don’t have information I get nervous. I love to walk, I love to swim, I do some exercises, I chat and I spend time with my children and my grandchildren.

Finally. Also in the first interview you gave to Villas&Golfe, you were asked: «What would André Jordan feel if he were sitting alone on the moon, looking up at the Earth in the sky?» How would you answer today? How do you look at the world, at the Earth?
What did I say back then?

Your answer was, and I quote: «The moon is inside me»
Oh, how lovely!, but, I speak to the moon, because it is the star of loves.

Maria Cruz
T. Maria Cruz
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