Photo: Cristina Bernardo/Shutterstock

Holiday reservations bonanza!

Hotels – particularly those in the Algarve – have been inundated with inquiries, to the point that ‘reservations departments’ had to stay open over the weekend to cope.

In terms of income for a sector that has been the equivalent of ‘dead man walking’ for well over seven months, last weekend was the start of a veritable bonanza.

Just in the Minor group, which has six hotels in the Algarve under the Tivoli and the Anantara brands, bookings flooding in on Saturday had hit the €1.5 million mark.

Director Jorge Beldade told SIC television that he was expecting that number to have doubled by Sunday and keep going for the next few days.

“It has been madness,” he said. “The British market is showing that it wants to travel…”

In UK, brands like Thomas Cook reached the same conclusion within the first hour of the announcement being broadcast.

“We took in the first hour from 5pm to 6pm as many Portugal bookings as we took in the whole month of April,” David Child, head of PR, told reporters, adding that half of those reservations were for five-star hotels – showing Brits really do mean to splash out.

Travel health experts Practio agree, saying Brits “look set to flash the cash, with £706 expected to be spent per visit”.

The company predicts that upwards of 2.8 million Britons will be spending “a whopping £2 billion on trips to Portugal this year” (click here), as HomeToGo, one of the largest holiday rentals search engines, reports “searches for holiday homes abroad with a check-in date between May 17-31 more than doubled” on the back of last Friday’s announcement. And the five most searched for destinations were all in the Algarve: Albufeira, Vilamoura, Carvoeiro, Tavira and Alvor. Outside the Algarve, Madeira, Lisbon, Cascais and Porto were other favourites.

The scramble comes as traditional competitor-destinations are still confined to the UK’s amber travel list – meaning any Brits taking holidays in France, Spain or Italy from May 17 will face quarantine on their return home, irrespective of whether or not they have been vaccinated.

Of course, the listings could change. Indeed, other destinations are going all out to ensure that they are, but, in the meantime, the sun is shining on Portugal (even if the weather is having its ups and downs). There are, however, some (not inconsiderable) questions.

Airlines hike ticket prices
The minute the green light for travel came on, airlines raced to update their schedules … and their prices.

LBC radio reported that “ahead of Friday’s announcement, demand for flights to Portugal had already driven up prices as holidaymakers anticipated its green categorisation.

“On Friday night, one of the most expensive travel options for May 17 appeared to be a British Airways flight from Heathrow to Faro in the Algarve, costing £436 or £530 depending on the time of day.”

On the same day, however, low-cost airline Ryanair was offering flights from London Stansted to Lisbon for £65 – so good deals will be ‘out there’ – and Ryanair has been one of the quickest airlines to increase the number of weekly flights into Portugal, particularly to Faro (see page 11). EasyJet, too, has guaranteed more seats to the region from June, said Algarve tourism boss João Fernandes.

PCR tests
This is the big question. Before leaving the UK and travelling to Portugal, passengers must present a negative PCR test taken 72-hours or less before embarkation.

Then when returning, anyone travelling to England from a Green List country, even if fully vaccinated against Covid-19, will have to show another negative Covid test (this can be a lateral flow antigen test, we have been told) and then carry out the so-called “Day-2” test either on the day of arrival or up to two days after arrival (with the day of arrival counted as day 0). This stipulation applies to all travellers except toddlers and babies under the age of two.

On Wednesday, the Algarve Tourism Association (ATA) sent a statement to the press announcing that hotels and ‘touristic lodgings’ are expected to establish agreements with credited laboratories so that holidaymakers know where they can get tested before their return flight.

These tests alone can add hundreds of pounds/euros to the cost of a family holiday. But if travel experts in UK are correct, even this stipulation may be softened (i.e., transformed into something more affordable) by late June/early July.

Said Simon Calder, travel correspondent for the Independent, last week: “I certainly expect the UK’s onerous demands for testing to be eased, probably at the same time as the number of green list countries is greatly expanded.

“It may be that the two tests currently required of green-list arrivals be replaced by a single pre-departure test, or at least a quick and simple lateral flow test on arrival that can be carried out as part of the airport process.”

Simon Calder also envisages that ‘pragmatism will prevail’ over ‘enormous queues’ that have been witnessed checking people through airports since the start of the pandemic. “There will be an accelerated process” in place in time for the holiday rush, he predicts.

But is Portugal ‘open’ for non-essential travel?
This question is a good one as right now Portugal has not officially declared itself open to anything but non-essential travel from anywhere in the world.

Nonetheless, secretary of state for tourism Rita Marques told the BBC back in March that the country would be welcoming tourists from early May – and the foreign affairs ministry has welcomed Portugal’s inclusion to the British green-list. Thus, an official announcement over re-opening the country to tourism may well come later today (Thursday) from the Council of Ministers.

It has to be said also that Portugal’s land borders are not yet open to visitors from Spain (unless they are coming for essential reasons) – and that still didn’t stop 120 cars per minute driving through the border at Castro Marim two weekends ago carrying Spanish families looking for a good lunch. They were not questioned; no one asked them for proof of negative Covid tests and, by all accounts, the destination they were all making for (Vila Real de Santo António) has seen no sudden spike in the number of Covid infections.

[email protected]