Tourism in Portugal recovers in 2021, showing encouraging signs for future

2021 was a year of recovery for Portugal’s tourism sector after 2020 was universally described as one of the worst ever for the industry across the globe. Despite the improvement, numbers are still a far cry from what they were before the outbreak of Covid-19.

This is the gist of the statistics revealed on Monday by the National Statistics Institute (INE).

Data shows that last year’s 37.5 million overnight stays at tourist establishments in Portugal represent a 45.2% increase compared to 2020. On the other hand, they are the lowest number since 2012 (excluding 2020). Ever since 2013 – when the country registered 43.5 million bookings – the number had been increasing until reaching 70.1 million in 2019.

The good news is that the last three months of 2021 showed some encouraging signs, with 2021’s number of overnight stays coming closer to 2019’s. In November, for example, the country’s hotels and tourist lodgings welcomed over 3.5 million overnight stays – ‘just’ half a million fewer than the same month in 2019.

It may not sound like much, but the gap was much wider in August 2021 when just over five million bookings were registered – over two million less than August 2019.

Data also shows how the pandemic changed the dynamics of tourism in Portugal. While foreigners accounted for the vast majority of bookings in 2019 (over 49 million), the number plummeted to just 12.2 million in 2020 and only recovered very marginally to 18.7 million in 2021.

Despite the marginal improvement, Portugal is seeing positive signs from some of its main markets.

The number of bookings made by Irish tourists, who represent just the 14th largest market in Portugal, increased over 200% in 2021 compared to 2020. Poland (+170%), USA (+141%), Switzerland (+103%), Belgium (+92%) and Denmark (90%) also accounted for major increases, as did Portugal’s five largest markets – France (+65%), UK (+55%), Spain (+52%), Netherlands (+41%) and Germany (+23%).

Out of the list of Portugal’s 17 largest markets, only four registered a decrease in tourists staying in Portugal in 2021: Brazil (-9%), Russia (-24%), Canada (-43%) and China (-56%).

INE also reveals that visitors spent 2.6 nights in Portugal on average – more than 2020’s 2.47 and akin to 2019’s average – although the amount of time varies from region to region.

The Algarve and Madeira are where travellers spend the longest time – 4 and 4.7 nights on average, respectively – while the stay lasts around 2.3 nights in the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon. The North and Centre regions host their visitors during a smaller amount of time (1.8 nights).

The Algarve also unsurprisingly remains the main tourist region in Portugal, with 29% of the 37.5 million bookings in 2021, followed by the Metropolitan Area of Lisbon with 21% and the North region with 16%. The Centre region and Madeira follow with 12% each, while the Alentejo and Azores only account for 6% and 4%, respectively.

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