When we first came across smart specialisation we were rather concerned. The biggest problem in our region has been over, and not under specialisation. With many natural advantages, Algarve is Portugal's main tourism destination and has witnessed an explosion of infrastructure in the sector over recent decades. However, when the global economic crisis hit, it became clear that reliance on 'Sun and Sea' tourism was precarious, since it suffers from large fluctuations in demand, depending on the season and global trends. Moreover it is a brand of tourism that can be replicated by lower cost competitors around the world.
Yet when we explored what smart specialisation was all about, we learned that it meant concentrating resources in domains of R&I, rather than single sectors like tourism. Applying these domains could result in two transformative effects in our economy: One is the development of niche products within tourism, to create products that are harder to imitate and which create demand outside our traditional high season. Another is to build on links between tourism and other sectors to create new economic activities. An example is to respond to a big societal challenge; ageing, by integrating the different services required to care for the elderly and establishing Algarve as a leader in their delivery and export.
The challenge is substantial, but embracing experimentation and novelty is what we need. If the process of strategy formation can be followed with concrete implementation, smart specialisation could transform Algarve's economy into one based on knowledge, competitiveness and resilience.