The Algarve has reopened its doors to foreign tourists, with the first international flights arriving at Faro Airport last week.
It is a moment that many hope will help the region’s economy rebuild after the devastating consequences that the coronavirus pandemic has had on nearly every sector of society.
Ninety passengers were aboard the Swiss Edelweiss plane that departed from Zurich and landed at Faro Airport on Thursday (May 28), the first commercial plane to do so in over two months.
“We’re here to play golf. We will stay for a month. I know Faro, the Algarve and Portugal very well. It’s a beautiful country and I recommend it to everyone,” one of the arriving holidaymakers told SIC TV, denying any feeling of fear due to the pandemic.
“Coronavirus is everywhere in the world. We have to have respect, but Portugal, especially the Algarve, and Switzerland are more on the safe side, so I’m not afraid to travel between those two countries,” he said.
At Faro Airport, all arriving passengers are required to have their temperatures checked. Thermal imaging technology is also used to detect potential cases of Covid-19, and any suspected case will be immediately isolated.
One of the passengers who also arrived on the Edelweiss plane was a Portuguese student living in Switzerland, who jumped at the chance to finally return home. He told SIC that he felt safe during the entirety of the flight.
“The plane was at about one third of its capacity. There weren’t magazines to read, only the safety instructions. There was special care to minimise contact (between passengers),” he said.
Elsewhere at Faro Airport, lifts have been equipped with a “hands-free” system to prevent people from having to touch buttons, while the airport’s toilet facilities have electronic counters to help cleaning staff know how often they should clean them. There are even vending machines with masks and disinfectant gel for sale.
It’s a new normal for a region that is trying to do everything it can to welcome holidaymakers in the safest way possible.
On Sunday, a second commercial flight, operated by Luxair, arrived at Faro Airport from Luxembourg, bringing 141 holidaymakers to the region.
“I’m looking forward to it. I don’t know this part of Portugal, so it’s going to be nice,” one of the arriving holidaymakers told SIC.
“I thought it would be nice to get out of the house and out of the country. Portugal was the first Southern European country we could fly to, I think because of how it handled the crisis,” another tourist told SIC.
A Portuguese family of four was also aboard the flight, taking advantage of the opportunity to spend a week-long holiday in the country.
“We will be staying home to not interact very much with locals,” one of the Portuguese visitors said.
A representative for Luxair said that the airline started flying to Portugal because “it is the safest country for now”, explaining the importance of the country allowing access to its beaches, pools and restaurants.
“We will fly again next Sunday. Then from June 13, we will have four flights per week. In July, we will start flying five times per week. We have not cancelled any flight until November,” the representative added.
On Thursday, Transavia will become the third carrier to begin flying to the Algarve, this time from Amsterdam. Wizzair, easyJet, Ryanair and Lufthansa will begin flying to the region in mid-June.
Meantime, around half of the Luxembourg holidaymakers who arrived on Sunday will be staying at São Rafael Atlântico and Salgados Dunas Suites, two hotels in Albufeira managed by the NAU hotel group.
“We are very happy to welcome this first group of holidaymakers from Luxembourg at our hotels,” said the group’s CEO Mário Ferreira.
“We have prepared our hotels and staff to welcome our guests with all the sanitary safety needed, and provide them with an unforgettable experience in this new context of normality.”
The group revealed that the holidaymakers will be staying at the hotels for one or two weeks.