25 de Abril bridge crosses the Tagus river (Credit: Turismo de Lisboa)
With practically no heavy industry, the service sector is everything. Major players who have established service centres here include Japanese IT equipment and services provider Fujitsu, French bank BNP Paribas, US IT networking equipment firm Cisco, Finnish data networking and telecommunications company Nokia Networks, and the Belgian chemical firm Solvay among others. Energy firms Subsea 7, Technip and National Oilwell Varco have their service sector operations here, as does business jet firm Netjets.
The city pulls in more than four million visitors a year, with around 40% arriving for business.
This relatively small capital operates with a subtle mix of formality and spontaneity. “Oftentimes in the States, when you ask for a meeting, people will look at their calendar and say, ‘Can we meet in three weeks?’ But in Lisbon people will say, ‘Sure, why don’t you come over this afternoon for a coffee?” said Maureen Ferguson, a consultant in food, beverages and hospitality, who recently moved to Lisbon from Philadelphia in her native US.
“People are very warm and friendly and their English is spectacular but friendship has to be earned. It takes a little while to move from talking about business to sharing personal information,” Ferguson said. The perfect icebreaker is to enquire about regional cuisine and wines, she advised.
Due partly to the financial crisis (which overturned career expectations for so many Portuguese), there’s a tangible openness to new ideas in the city. “There’s a real can-do entrepreneurial spirit in Lisbon right now. People love their traditions but they are also very open to innovation,” she said. “During the crisis lots of people found opportunities to live elsewhere and to discover different ways of doing things. Now that there’s starting to be more opportunity here they’re coming back and bringing all that energy with them.”
About 7 km (4 miles) north of the city centre, Lisbon Portela is Portugal’s slick, modern, primary airport with direct links to 43 countries and 110 destinations. In addition to flights from many European cities, these include the African cities of Accra, Bamako, Dakar, Luanda, Maputo, and in the Americas, Rio de Janiero, Sao Paolo and Brasilia; Boston, Miami and New York; Bogota, Caracas, Panama.
Metro trains run directly from the airport into the city centre (Saldanha metro station) from 06.30 until late and take 21 minutes. Tickets cost 1.40 euros ($1.52).
The majority of business travellers will take a taxi to reach the town centre quickly, this will cost about 15 euros ($16.33) and take about 15 minutes, but prices are higher at night and there is also a charge for luggage. Hiring a car is also popular as it’s a low cost alternative for meetings beyond central Lisbon, costing around 30 euros per day, plus fuel, for an economy car such as an Opel Corsa.
Amex and Visa are widely accepted, Mastercard slightly less so, but it’s useful to carry around 50 euros ($54) in cash for all small purchases, taxis and snacks. A bica (espresso) costs 60-80 euro cents (67-85 US cents) in a neighbourhood café, apastel de nata around one euro (the famous custard tarts baked in Belem).
It will cost more if you sit outside on the terrace or if you’re in a tourist hot spot. If service isn’t included the customary tip is around 5%, or up to 10 % in a formal restaurant. No need to tip at all if you’ve just had a snack or a coffee but if you wish, leave the change from the nearest euro.
Popular options for business travellers include near Marques de Pombal, the 311-bedroom Epic Sana is a sleek and ‘zeitgeist-y’ five-star option, eight minutes-walk from the nearest metro station, but also offering paid-for covered parking. With 2,169 sqm (23,346 square feet) devoted to flexible event space, the hotel can host anything from a small meeting to a vast banquet. For downtime there’s a spa with indoor pool plus a rooftop outdoor pool.
Also downtown, close to Avenida da Liberdade, the 89-bedroom Inspira Santa Marta is a popular boutique hotel with feng shui styling, a wellness spa and a restaurant which prides itself on offering veggie and vegan options. There are two meeting rooms and a cinema-style auditorium. The nearest metro station is only four minutes-walk. Rooms cost from 106 euros ($115) non-refundable.