Easyjet ‘can’t see any kind of return to business in Portugal till June’

Low-cost operator Easyjet can’t see any kind of return to business in Portugal till June – and even then it won’t be across the board.

José Lopes, director of Easyjet Portugal, told RTP3 this week that the first routes to open will be Portugal-Funchal, and those connecting with countries that have large emigré populations (France, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Germany and UK).

So much in this situation depends on ‘other areas’, explained Lopes.

For instance, as far as he sees it: “Very few hotels will be open in May. The great majority open in June. By the end of June we’re hoping that 75% of hotels will be back in operation”.

Tourism entities – all focused on salvaging some joy from the summer season from the national market – are painfully aware of the sector’s issues of interdependence.

Talking to Lusa this week Francisco Calheiros of the Confederation of Portuguese Tourism said 2020 depends very much on when airports open, and what airline companies decide vis-a-vis routes and frequencies.

For example: “Portugal may have TAP flying, and national airports back open but if the United Kingdom remains shut, it won’t mean anything” as British tourists won’t be able to get to Portugal.

Another stumbling block is the advice given by governments to their citizens: it needs to be ‘uniform’ across the bloc if Europe’s tourism industry is to have any kind of fighting chance in 2020.

To this end, vice-president of the European Commission Věra Jourová has asked member states to lift flight restrictions “as soon as possible”.

She stressed there should be no discrimination on the basis of nationalities or “epidemiological developments” in any particular country.

But ultimately Brussels ‘advice’ is just that: ‘advice’ that may have to change in the face of a situation that remains unpredictable.

In the words of Francisco Calheiros, all tourist businesses have at the moment is ‘hope’.

As for Easyjet, José Lopes is under no illusions: the pandemic has left the airline with a long and painful road to recovery. UK government help has assured a worst case scenario of nine months without flying. Right now, 350 planes are on the ground, 340 of its Portuguese staff are on lay-off (with another 14,000 worldwide) and like all Europe’s airlines, the company is looking to Brussels to hear of any financial support that may come down the line.

One glimmer of positivity for the Algarve is that Easyjet is hoping that initial routes to open up will include one to Faro, to bring in golfers. But for now, that’s all there is: hope.

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