The other day we had the lovely Irina Zeleranskaya, a guide in the gastronomic“Port Wine and Sardine.” After moving to Portugal in 2014, leaving her PR career in Moscow, Irina completed a course at the University of Coimbra and got her MBA in Tourism.
In our blog we decided to do a short summary with the most interesting questions. Follow the link below and watch the full interview with Irina on our YouTube channel MoveToCascais.
How did you first get to Portugal and why choose Portugal to live in?
– Irina: I got to Portugal quite by accident in 2005. It was by chance because I was going to Panama and Costa Rica. I mean, I really wanted to see the Panama Canal, which is totally the other way around 🙂 The problem was, first of all, that my English was totally lame at the time and second, I was terrified of flying across the Atlantic. And it was at that time when there were no direct flights from Moscow to Lisbon, so I had to fly via Madrid, then to Lisbon and then across the Atlantic to somewhere else. And I was afraid, honestly. Although the dream remained, it’s still there 🙂
– Yuri: You haven’t been there?
– And: No, but I really want to! And I was thinking, where is the furthest point from Moscow that I can get to without crossing the Atlantic? All I knew about Lisbon at that time was that it existed. But in spite of that, I decided to fly there: Did you come as a tourist?
– I: Yes, I came as a tourist, just on the eve of the Portuguese Revolution, which was the 20th of April. And something happened to me that happens, in general, to many people who are in Portugal, like me, for the first time, not knowing anything about the country. I walked out of the airport, I inhaled everything around me: the ocean, the smell of baked goods, the smell of coffee, of aleander blossoms; and I realized that I was missing. I had the complete feeling that this was my place, that I just had to be here. I left. Spent a delightful week here: driving around town, walking with my feet, getting lost, getting lost in the city, being guided to the right path by the kind Portuguese people(literally turning me around by my shoulders). Then I decided that I needed to see something else, so for the next four years I was cheating on Portugal with all European countries in a row 🙂 Then I came again in 2009. I realized that this is my place, that I have to come here at least once a year, or better two times. But I still had some doubts and there was still work to do in Moscow. I left again.
How to get an MBA in Portugal?
– And: At the end of 2013 I had a big three-year project coming to an end, so my future was vague and dark. In other words, they didn’t re-sign me to my next contract. By this time I had been learning Portuguese for myself for a couple of years, because I was interested in it and wanted to somehow talk to the people of my favorite country in my native language. I decided that I could afford to take a few months off in order to get my Portuguese up to speed. So I bought a semester of Portuguese language instruction for foreigners at the University of Coimbra, went there, and completed the semester. I loved it terribly, because the Coimbra program is much broader, deeper and better than you expect for that money, so I decided to stay for another semester. And then I did an MBA in tourism in Portuguese.
– Y: Is that after university?”
– I: Yes, it was after school.
– Y: And how long do you have to study for an MBA and what is the cost?”
– I: You have to study for exactly one year, but it’s more complicated in terms of cost. There are different courses; mine were easy. My friend, who also lives in Portugal, had a whole course that cost 4 times as much. They took courses in Porto and it was a completely different quality of education. It was important for me to have a Portuguese education and I got it. The MBA gave me an understanding of the structure of the tourism industry as such. How it is structured internally, what happens there, what was there, what has become there, what will happen, how the tourism segment in Portugal looks like, how much of GDP it gives and so on.
What does Portuguese tourism look like today?
– And: Portuguese tourism, compared to what it was before the pandemic, looks all pale. It is recovering, like the rest of Europe after the disaster. Portuguese tourism contributed more than 12% of Portugal’s GDP. That’s a huge part for the third sector. So now we’re waiting for the virus to go away.
– Yu: What are your predictions? When will the tourists go?”
– I: Honestly, I can’t say. We live for today, all of us, because it’s very difficult to make any predictions. I have no idea what can happen, because as soon as the situation improves we immediately fall back to our previous positions. In any case we are preparing for the worst and hoping for the best.
And what was it like before, when there were tourists?
– And: When there were tourists, everything was fine, because Portugal, in my feeling, did not get as tired of tourists as Spain, for example. Everybody had work to do. The Algarve tourist region, for example, which lives mainly off tourism. There was a distinct season. People who were engaged in tourism strategic planning said, “Guys, we need to move away from the seasonal trend, because there are nine more months in the year, and we need to do something. It’s a funny situation: the Algarve is quite depressing in winter, although there is a lot to do. The main question is how to promote and how to sell.
The general goal of Portugal in terms of tourism has always been to become a year-round resort. By the way, a word or two about what’s going on in the province. This is important because people who come to Portugal have an idea of Lisbon and Porto because of the transport interchanges there. But there are other places in Portugal besides these two cities. There is the wonderful center of Portugal, there is a huge chunk along the Spanish border, there is the delightful north above Porto. There is the Costa de Santino, which no one knows about. Or rather, the locals know, but they don’t tell anyone 🙂
– J: And what is this place, tell me more about it.
– I: The Costa de Santino is a nature reserve. It’s a piece of coastline from Sinoche to the Algarves and it’s wonderful there. There’s incredible peace, gorgeous ocean, it’s cheap, it’s quiet, there are horseback rides. There is also the beautiful town of Aljehur, which is considered the capital of the sweet potato, yams. It has its own dialect, its own local culture, its own way of life. It turns out that if you look at Portugal is, roughly speaking, three countries in one (center, north, south), but, de facto, much more. They differ from each other visually, culturally, by language, cuisine, faces, even wines! Do you like the center, the south, or the north?
– I: It’s simple. Coimbra is my little Portuguese homeland. I lived and studied there for three years. Coimbra is my place, but I don’t like wine from there 🙂
– Y: Can you tell me where is the best wine in Portugal?
– I: The best wine is the wine you like. We all have individual tastes, individual biochemistry, individual preferences and so on. I like green wines, I’m not picky. I like something light, white. I’m an expert who doesn’t drink red wine – I’m allergic, I can’t drink it, unfortunately. But to understand wine, I certainly can…