October “looking good” for tourism in Portugal – especially when it comes to golf…and Brits

October is bringing with it a breath of fresh air for Portugal’s struggling tourism industry.

It may be the ‘end of the summer season’, but there is (always) golf – and thanks to changes in British travel policy coming in tomorrow, there promises to be a healthy influx of Brits too.

“We are on the road to recovery”, Luís Correia da Silva, president of CNIG, the national confederation of the golf industry, has told Expresso. “After the disaster of these last 18 months, we are starting to see the first positive signs and the beginning of an uptick on all the courses in the Algarve”.

Golf in the Lisbon region hasn’t seen quite the same trend, but slowly, slowly. One step at a time.

João Fernandes, president of RTA, the Algarve’s regional tourism authority, is at least sounding hopeful.

“Reservation data seems to be pointing to a clear recovery. We have good indicators for October and November”, he said. In fact “we are hoping to return as quickly as possible to the level of demand” usually expected in the ‘low season’.

Tomorrow, the UK finally moves forwards on a raft of ‘changes’ designed to make travel much easier for fully-vaccinated nationals (click here).

One of the most significant changes says Expresso is that Portugal will finally ‘recognise’ British vaccine certificates.

This however has not appeared to be the case, with some passengers being told they must still produce negative tests pre-flight, and others saying they managed to fly in soley on the basis of their NHS vaccination certificate.

As confusion persists, Expresso’s main message is that “the increase in British tourists has already started to be felt in a substantial way in the Algarve since the middle of September, when the golf season began”.

With fully-vaxxed visitors no longer needing to go into quarantine on their return home, the region’s 40 courses (and nearby hotels) are all running with “high occupancy” rates. Indeed, 50% of arrivals from UK at Faro airport since the middle of September have been people heading for local golf courses.

Hopes are that the season will end only 20%-30% down on 2019, which was “an exceptional year for golf in the Algarve – and 20%-30% up on 2020”, said Correia da Silva. 

It’s not just the Brits steaming back with their clubs, players from Ireland, France, Holland, Germany, even Finland, have been arriving, he told Expresso – though the British still make up the lion’s share of business in the Algarve (more than 70%).

And interest beyond this year is also piquing: reservations for March, April and May are coming in. “We don’t know what is going to happen to the pandemic”, Correia da Silva admits, but “it gives us far more positive expectations than we had a few months ago”.

President of AHETA, the Algarve hoteliers association, Elidérico Viegas has never been one to let off fireworks before the party. He retains his customary reticence to blow any trumpets, telling Expresso that for all intents and purposes, the sector remains “on a knife-edge”.

Reservations can be cancelled; the pandemic has changed everything when it comes to holiday bookings – and golf alone “is not sufficient to guarantee bookings in all the hotels in the Algarve. There are many that remain shut… we are going into the low season which even before the pandemic was a time when the sector lost money”, he said.

What does help this year however are two ‘major events’ scheduled for November: the MOTO GP grand prix event – which this year will be open to the public – and the Portugal Masters, taking place in Vilamoura between November 4-7 (click here), and due to be televised by Sky Sports.

In Luís Correia da Silva’s perspective, this will mean “a lot of people will want to play on the Vilamoura courses…”

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com