Photo: BALATE DORIN/SHUTTERSTOCK

Shy return of Brits not enough to save Algarve summer

Tourism officials in the Algarve have made themselves very clear: the announcement that fully vaccinated Brits no longer have to quarantine for 10 days when arriving in UK from “amber list” countries such as Portugal will not be enough to save summer.

In fact, any hopes that this summer would be better than last year’s have long been dashed.

The spread of the Delta variant is seeing Covid-19 cases rise exponentially throughout Europe and is questioning the efficacy of vaccines against it. On Monday came the surprise announcement that France was being placed on a new ‘amber plus’ list of countries which have been excluded from a system allowing double-jabbed people to skip isolation upon returning from amber-list destinations.

Reports suggest Spain and Greece could be added to the list soon. Portugal has not yet been mentioned, but it is yet another ominous shadow hanging over a country that is desperate to ‘reopen’ tourism.

Speaking to the Resident this week, Algarve tourism boss João Fernandes (usually a voice of optimism) said that while the UK no longer forcing fully vaccinated passengers to quarantine after arriving from Portugal is “good news”, it is in no way the salvation to what has so far been a devastating summer for the regional tourism sector.

“It doesn’t make much sense to talk about ‘saving the summer’ after we have experienced 15 straight months of losses. It’s not an idea that is compatible with the month of June that we just had,” said the tourism chief.

While there is hope that the paradigm could soon change, Fernandes said that the pandemic has “taught us many lessons” – one being that any forecast made can be quickly turned on its head.

The tourism chief did celebrate the 28 flights that arrived from the UK at Faro Airport on Monday, but even this news appears to not be as impressive as it may sound.

One passenger who arrived in Faro on Monday told us that there were only around 50 passengers aboard the easyJet plane, or 30% of the aircraft’s capacity.

Unlike in May, when Portugal was one of the few destinations that was placed on the UK’s ‘green’ travel list, the country is now facing the competition of other rival destinations where Covid restrictions are not as strict.

So says Eliseu Correia from Algarve-based travel operator EC Travel, who has seen little change since fully vaccinated Brits were released from quarantine upon their return.

“This hasn’t led to any new reservations and hasn’t even been enough to stem the flow of cancellations,” Correia told the Resident.

In his view, the country’s image abroad has been strongly affected by its harsh Covid-19 restrictions as well as the chaos surrounding the strike by baggage-handling company Groundforce at national airports (click here).

“This ‘suicidal policy’ of closing restaurants at 10.30pm has turned the Algarve into a ‘cemetery’ at night, while rival destinations allow their restaurants to stay open until 2am,” the travel operator stressed.

Even just keeping restaurants open until midnight or 1am and reopening bars and discos (whilst still demanding a negative test or a Digital Covid Certificate at the door) would be enough to encourage more holidaymakers to visit the country, he believes.

Says Correia, Portugal’s “insistence” on continuing to demand that Brits who haven’t been fully vaccinated quarantine for 14 days after arriving in the country (even if they have presented a negative test) is also a setback when compared to other rival tourism destinations whose rules are not so strict.

Meanwhile, the impending threat of further Groundforce strikes is also doing little to help convince holidaymakers to travel to Portugal.

“I don’t think there will be confidence to travel to Portugal until an assurance is made that no more strikes will be held,” he added.

Elidérico Viegas, the outspoken president of the Algarve hoteliers association (AHETA), has also been telling newspapers that there is “no way” that the end of quarantine for double-jabbed Brits will save this summer.

“The expectations that we had for a much better summer than last year’s have long been compromised. Everything seems to suggest that this summer will be even worse than the last,” he told Jornal Económico.

Nonetheless, Viegas does believe that the “lifting of this restriction is a step forward.

“We strongly hope that this will contribute to more British tourists coming on holiday to Portugal and more specifically to the Algarve,” he said.

Whether this will be the case remains to be seen, although the first signs have not been promising.

What’s certain is that in Portugal and across the world there is a desire to leave the pandemic behind and move forward with life. An Open Letter signed by doctors and pharmacists last Friday declared that “it is time to recover the right to live” as many of the government-imposed measures in the name of combatting the pandemic “are no longer justified” (click here).

Even Prime Minister António Costa has pledged “total liberation of society” by the end of the summer and has predicted that tourism will again prosper (click here).

For many families and businesses, however, all hope has been lost.

By MICHAEL BRUXO
michael.bruxo@algarveresident.com