Tourism 2021 has started well in Portugal, particularly in the Algarve where it’s economically vital.
Things are looking good for June, on into July and well beyond.
For the last two weeks of May following the easing of lockdowns and travel bans, visitors from abroad have been enjoying themselves in the warm sunshine. Many tourist-orientated businesses have reopened, many jobs revitalised and the economy in general is on the way to recovery.
“We are off to a strong start and the numbers for June could be close to the numbers pre-COVID, if not exceeding them,” Daniel de Adro, vice-president of the Algarve Regional Tourism Board, told the UK magazine Travel Weekly.
The Algarve is now in a good position to dismiss 2020, “the lost year,” he added.
UK visitor numbers in the Algarve, which normally represent half of all airport arrivals to the region, fell by 85% last year compared to 2019. International arrivals at Faro airport dropped overall by 74%.
While it may be an exaggeration to say that holiday demand for the region suddenly “exploded” on being placed on the “green list” by England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, it certainly gave Portugal plenty of exposure.
Among the first UK arrivals in May were singing superstar Rod Stewart (76) and his wife Penny Lancaster. They hired a private jet to bring them here. They shared their joy of staying at the luxurious Vila Vita resort in Porches, Lagoa, on Instagram. News of their visit, together with photographs of the couple languishing in beautiful surroundings, were then published in the Daily Mail newspaper.
Things could be better, of course, especially for hotels in Portugal that have not yet been able to properly prepare to take advantage of the increase in the numbers of bookings that for open hotels have exceeded expectations. Some hotels that have been at a standstill for a year and a half will not be ready to reopen until later in June.
The full operation of the hotels is "dependent on the stability of the markets that send tourists, particularly the British and the domestic market that may be affected by a possible setback caused by the pandemic, " Elidérico Viegas president of the Association of Hotels and Tourist Enterprises in the Algarve (AHETA) told the Portuguese Lusa news agency.
“If these factors continue, we can expect that this summer will be much better than last year and hope that in September, with the start of the high golf season, demand will be close to normal,” he said.
“If this growth outlook is met, the region will be able to prepare itself for “a year of some recovery in 2022.” As for 2023, there are expectations “of a return to almost normality.”
Elidérico Viegas added. “The mass vaccination of the Algarve’s population is the best way of guaranteeing the safety of people who want to choose the Algarve as their destination."
Portugal is accelerating its vaccination rollout nationwide with 30-year-olds starting on June 6 and 40-year-olds from June 20. The health authorities are also ramping up testing, targeting schools, vulnerable populations like asylum seekers, and crowded areas such as central train stations in Lisbon.
Pharmacies in Lisbon already offer a free antigen test every 15 days. “We must act in a preventative, proactive manner, to break chains of transmission,” Health Secretary Lacerda Sales said.
Portugal has been lifting restrictions in a step-by-step loosening of the rules underway since April after four months of stringent lockdown.
While cases have since remained relatively stable nationwide at around 300 to 600 new cases per day, Lisbon saw a steeper rise in May, particularly among young adults, the health secretary said.
It came as no surprise that many of the thousands of football supporters who descended on the northern city of Porto for the Chelsea vs Manchester City UEFA Champions League Final indulged in the region’s best known commodity. Regardless of the excellence of Douro Valley wines, the sheer quantities consumed by many fans created enthusiasm that at times was somewhat excessive but didn’t call for much police intervention.
A potentially much more damaging event was a threatened strike by the airports and border security police force, SEF. It could have severely disrupted inbound and outbound visitors, but the strike has been abandoned.
Meanwhile Portugal’s economic recovery has been fast and strong since the country started easing its COVID-19 lockdown in mid-March, Economy Minister Pedro Siza Vieira told Reuters. Growth this year may exceed the government’s forecast of 4%, he said.
The economy slumped by 7.6% last year. The government predicted in April this year that the economy would grow 4% in 2021.
“We are envisaging more favourable growth,” Siza Vieira said, pointing to the ongoing resumption of tourism as a significant factor. Tourism accounted for nearly 15% of gross domestic product before the pandemic.