The Algarve is celebrating a much-anticipated return of British holidaymakers, spurred mostly by this month’s school half term, some great weather (up to today!) and the start of the golf season.
As Expresso newspaper points out, “October is being a positive month for the Algarve”, which is seeing tourists from some of its main markets return to the region.
“We had 215 flights arriving at Faro Airport last weekend transporting over 30,000 passengers – 41% of whom were from the UK,” Algarve tourism chief João Fernandes told Expresso, highlighting that this is the highest number since the start of 2020 – in other words, since before the pandemic.
“These are clear signs of recovery from our more traditional external markets, especially the British market,” he added.
According to Fernandes, forecasts indicate that most of the region’s 40 golf courses will be completely booked until the end of November, mostly due to British and Irish golfers who account for around 73% of the rounds that will be played.
Hotels are also reporting healthy numbers of bookings, due mostly to holidaymakers who had postponed their holiday rebooking them, as well as several “last-minute” bookings.
November is expected to continue the positive trend, with the Algarve International Racetrack in Portimão gearing up to host a MotoGP Grand Prix on November 7, while the Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course in Vilamoura will host the Portugal Masters golf tournament between November 4 and 7.
“Thanks to the recovery of our external markets, we feel close to what would be a normal year, although still far from 2019 when Faro Airport was moving one million passengers in October,” said the tourism chief.
Despite the positive signs, tourism and hotel officials remain concerned about the threats of new variants which could once again bring the travel sector to a standstill.
Meanwhile, Elidérico Viegas from the Algarve hoteliers association (AHETA) warns that while demand is indeed on the rise, it is still a far cry from what it used to.
“The increase is real, but we must be aware of the desperate situation we have endured for two years,” Viegas told Expresso.
As he explained, the improvements are still “insufficient for companies to be profitable” and “must not create the illusion of success and that the crisis is over”.
Gonçalo Rebelo de Almeida from the Vila Galé hotel group agrees with Viegas.
“There is already some movement of British tourists in the Algarve – they are indeed our main foreign market -, but if we look at data from 2019, there is a 50% decrease in terms of overnight stays,” he told Expresso newspaper.
Providing another harsh dose of reality, Viegas said that 10% of the region’s hotels did not even open last summer, and at least 40% will be closing this winter.
“Tourism recovery has never happened from one day to another, and the idea that it can happen at the snap of a finger is not real,” he said, adding that forecasts from “important entities” such as Airports Council International Europe indicate that air travel will only return to pre-pandemic levels in 2025.
Viegas also stressed that “60% of the Algarve’s business was carried out through tour operators, who were hit hard by the crisis”. The recovery of these companies or the transfer of business flow to “other selling channels” takes time, he warns.
The good news is that if the pandemic remains under control, Viegas believes the tourism sector can truly begin recovering after next Easter.