In 2010 Funchal decided to implement a new sustainable public transport strategy to encourage tourists to use local transport over private forms of travel. Together with local hotels it produced a Tourist Kit that included transport tickets, maps and other guides to help holidaymakers get around easily by public transport. Its quick success helped boost overall ticket sales for the local public transport operator and improved the satisfaction of hotel guests. Funchal later developed software for digital media to complement the Kit, and is now hoping to build on its success by promoting it further in different ways around the city.
Funchal is the largest and capital city of Madeira island, which is located in the Atlantic Ocean, west of the African coast. The city covers an area of about 76.15 km2 and has around 112 000 inhabitants.
Thanks to a mild climate that lasts throughout the year, tourism is popular and the main driver of the local economy. In order to move around the city and the island, tourists can make use of public transport but the convenience provided by taxis and car rentals has always been preferred.
It was clear for the municipality that if hotels provided more and better information in English about public transport and were also able to sell tickets, it would reduce traffic congestion and levels of pollution. Tourists would be more satisfied with the city and would be more likely to return – a benefit also to the hotels.
Horários do Funchal went about producing a Tourist Kit in association with local hotels, the Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Authority of Tourism and Transport, the public body responsible for providing public transport in the municipality.
The Kit consists of bus tickets with an additional free map of Funchal showing all public routes, points of interest and hotel details. The Kit is only available for tourists at hotel reception desks for € 5.10, € 12.30 or € 16.70 (respectively one-, two-, or five-day tickets). So far, 19 hotels are selling the Kits.
The SEEMORE project, co-funded by the EU’s Intelligent Energy Programme, helped Horários do Funchal to conduct a survey as part of its strategy to meet the demands of tourists. It revealed that 47 per cent of its visitors made use of smart devices. So after the Tourist Kit’s initial implementation, Horários do Funchal decided to further develop it on digital devices such mobile phones and tablets, resulting in the production of the following apps and digital software:
- An audio guide for Curral das Freiras, a popular tourist destination. Made available for free as a smart-phone app, is was developed with the help of Polish company AudioTrip
- A comprehensive online guide that shows tourists what sights are available to see by bus, downloadable as a pdf. This was produced with the support of the Regional Authority of Tourism and Transport and neighbouring municipalities
- A bus planner smart-phone app, HF BUS, developed by a Madeira University student and tested in co-operation with Horários do Funchal
- An online journey planner, produced by a sub-contracted IT company. This cost € 61 875, with 50 per cent funded by the CIVITAS project (opens pdf).
The SEEMORE project also created a Facebook page dedicated to promoting sustainable travel in Funchal. All these tools are available in both Portuguese and in English.
The response to the Tourist Kit has been positive. In less than three years, 34 per cent of hotels located along the Green Line bus route (a newly created high-frequency bus line for tourists) now have the Kit and have started selling public transport tickets at their reception desks. The Kit has had a significant impact on the increase of public transport in Funchal. Overall ticket sales rose by 23 104 (73 per cent) in 2011 - 5 022 (22 per cent) of which is thanks solely to the Kit.
Between 2010 and 2011, sales of the Kit generated revenues of more than € 47 000 for the public transport operator – a clear profit on the € 6 400 it cost to produce the Kits over the same period. Hotel receptionists, who are paid commission for every Kit sold, received a total of € 1 865.
In 2013 Tourist Kit sales dipped slightly to 4 498 (20 per cent of overall ticket sales). Horários do Funchal attributes the slight fall to stronger competitors in the tourist and leisure industry that have more commercial incentives to offer. Since the beginning of the project in 2010 until the end of 2013, a total of nearly 14 000 Kits have been sold.
Take-up of the Kit’s complementary digital software has also been a big factor in encouraging tourists to use public transport. Between April and June 2014, the Curral das Freiras smart phone app was downloaded 72 times. The online bus guide received an average of 563 hits a month and the HF bus app was downloaded up to 5 000 times by the end of July, receiving an average user rating of 4.3 (on a scale of one to five). The number of visits to the online journey planner between April and June reached an average of 1 660 a month.
Horários do Funchal has future plans to promote the Kit during special events around the city and by entering into partnerships with local museums. The success of the Kit has also inspired others: in summer 2013 the local taxi association introduced a similar tool to sell vouchers directly in hotel receptions. However, significant challenges still exist.
Some hotels do not sell public transport tickets due to their links with local taxi companies, who give generous commissions to hotel receptionists to persuade tourists to choose them over public transport. Others cannot stop running their courtesy buses as they have commercial agreements with tourism operators. And then there are the hotels, free from contractual obligations, that continue providing private hotel shuttle services as they offer a level of exclusivity and convenience that many holidaymakers desire.
‘The key to the success of the Tourist Kit,’ says Horários do Funchal’s André Freitas, ‘lies with the hotel receptionists - ideally those who are multi-lingual. They can often explain how it works and what the value is if a tourist uses them. Paying a small commission also motivates them to sell it.
‘If another city wants to implement a similar scheme in a hotel, it needs to ensure that formal agreements are signed between the hotel and local transport companies. With better transport options, the hotels will also benefit from increased customer satisfaction.’