Secretary of State for Tourism, Rita Marques

Shout it to the world: “Portugal is a clean and safe destination”, says secretary of state for tourism

Portugal’s Secretary of State for Tourism has thrown down a challenge to citizens, tourists, overseas residents and businesses in the tourism sector to publish testimonials on relevant websites and social media spelling out that Portugal is a safe and secure country to visit.

The move comes after a flurry of negative and mostly biased newspaper and online articles which appeared in some international press last week that gave the impression that Portugal was no longer able to contain the spread of the coronavirus after a spike of infections in specific and localised parts of the outskirts of the Portuguese capital Lisbon.

For example, on June 24, the UK’s Daily Telegraph ran a headline ‘Portugal puts the brakes on as new coronavirus cases rise’ calling Portugal a ‘partial outcast’ and drawing attention to ‘controls on 2.8 million residents’ in Greater Lisbon, ‘illegal parties’ and ‘overloaded public transport’. In fact, only one inner Lisbon district, Santa Clara, that is not even on the tourist circuit, has seen a spike in numbers.

Euronews Weekly had a headline screaming ‘Portugal now one of EU countries with the most new Covid-19 cases threatening ‘Safe Tourism’ reputation’, prompting Portugal Hotel Association (AHP) president Raul Martins to blame “negative and sensational” reporting put out by media groups because “bad news sells”.

In the webinar “The transition from #CantSkipHope to #CantSkipPortugal – when and how?”, organised by the British-Portuguese Chamber of Commerce on Monday, Secretary of State for Tourism Rita Marques stressed that Portugal still had among the lowest cases of Covid-19 in Europe, has strict social distancing and sanitation measures in place, as well as a simple online ‘Clean & Safe’ campaign involving hotels, bars and restaurants in which businesses could sign up to and the public could participate.

“We have nearly 328,000 people working in the tourism industry today in over 132,000 companies. Can you imagine what all of us could do to change the mindset that some foreign countries have about us if all of us can make a small positive post with some pictures and nice comments about the country,” said the minister.
“We’ve achieved a lot and, of course, we need to improve too, we all know that, but we should stick together in these troubled times and publish some positive views and success stories for the future,” stressed Rita Marques in the webinar which attracted literally hundreds of participants from all segments of the tourism sector in Portugal.

Getting good press
As part of Portugal’s gradual reopening, the country’s tourism bureau Turismo de Portugal has launched a film and informative slideshow #Can’tSkipOpening with the latest published figures as of June 25, 2020 which reveal updated daily Covid-19 cases (311 on June 25) and daily morbidity rates which have remained low and stable at between two and six deaths over the past two to three weeks.

As to subsidising foreign media to visit Lisbon, the minister said that Turismo de Portugal has a specific budget to invite overseas journalists and tour operators to visit Portugal as well as having 15 delegations representing 20 countries.

“A lot of journalists based here working for Euronews, Sky News and CNN are making amazing testimonials about Portugal in which they have reported that all the rules are being followed in hotels, restaurants and on the beaches,” said the minister.

AHP president Raul Martins said that the response to the sector’s new slogan #CantSkipHope, which aims to bring a new message of hope for everyone working in the sector and beyond, had been huge.

“We are not just beach and sun, we have great monuments and an interior with a lot of diversity such as wine regions. Portugal has so many places to visit and things to do. Come and explore Portugal, that is my message for the people of the United Kingdom and elsewhere,” he said.

The comment followed comments in the UK’s The Sun newspaper quoting Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita as stating this week that Portugal is better equipped to deal with coronavirus than the UK.

That had followed news that Portugal is expected to be kept off a list of countries granted airbridges to Britain.

‘Clean & Safe’ certification
Portugal has introduced a free-of-charge voluntary online ‘Clean & Safe’ campaign with a virtual seal awarded on complying with a set of health and hygiene rules (www.portugalcleanandsafe.com) which already has 17,000 voluntary signups.

As of April 24, tourism enterprises, tourist entertainment companies and travel agencies, companies that have an official registration with the national tourism authority, have been able to request certification as “Clean & Safe” establishments. After companies have submitted the declaration of commitment, they can publicise the “Clean & Safe” stamp, either physically on their premises or in their digital platforms.

Through this measure, Turismo de Portugal informs companies about the hygiene requirements and cleaning measures to ensure the safety of various establishments, according to the recommendations of the Directorate-General for Health (DGS), as well as promoting Portugal as a safe destination from the point of view of care with the spread of the virus, reinforcing the confidence of those who visit the country.

This validation is free and optional and is valid for one year. It will require the implementation of an internal protocol that will ensure the necessary hygiene measures to avoid risks of contagion and guarantee safe procedures for the operation of tourist activities.

“We do have random inspections and if you don’t commit to the rules, you stand a high chance of getting an inspection whereby Turismo de Portugal visits the establishment. The public can also rank establishments (on website https://portugalcleanandsafe.com) according to a traffic light system, with three reds or over leading to an inspection,” says Rita Marques.

To date, over 50% of hotels have this stamp, as do almost all travel agencies, 30% of tourism entertainment companies, as well as museums, religious monuments and restaurants.

Marques added that government entities were working hard to visit all of the ‘Clean & Safe’ establishments and would shortly publish all of the data and statistics to show Portugal was a clean and safe destination.

Startups and tourism
Miguel Barbosa of Portugal Ventures said that Portugal has a vibrant startup community with 3,000 startups – many linked to tourism – and 130 incubators and accelerators. This has led to Portugal recently being considered a strong innovator by the European Innovations Scoreboard.

Portugal startups take seriously the fact that Portugal has, for three consecutive years, won the ‘best destination in the world’ in the World Travel Awards while Forbes considered it the ‘friendliest country in the world for expats in 2018’ and for ‘big corporations and startups’.

Portugal Ventures is a venture capital company linked to Turismo de Portugal that invests in the seed phase of Portuguese startups in areas such as technology, life sciences and tourism.

Since 2012, it has invested over €120 million in over 90 new startups while in the tourism area it has a portfolio of 15 companies and has invested €13.5 million in this sector alone.

Barbosa gives the example of a startup that focuses on amenities for hotels and spas such as the toiletry bottles in hotel rooms and which has recently added alcohol gel made from grapes to its offer.

Another company provides a luggage delivery service from airport to destination and is now ensuring that luggage is disinfected by the time it arrives at the drop-off destination.

“Startups are important and they can adapt very rapidly to their environment according to market needs and are now working with tourists to ensure they feel safe against Covid-19,” he said.

By CHRIS GRAEME
chris.graeme@open-media.net