Tourism recovery “will take minimum three to five years”, admits Pestana CEO

The recovery of tourism in Portugal – to the kind of levels seen in 2017, 2018 and 2019 – will take a minimum of three to five years.

CEO of the Pestana hotel group José Theotónio told Antena 1 that the sector is “under no illusions”.

The ‘bombshell’ of exclusion – for a second time – from the UK’s list of countries with quarantine-free air bridges, and the outbreaks of infections in the Lisbon area have ensured that this summer (translating into the whole year for a destination like the Algarve) has been ‘lost’.

Yes, there is ‘Portuguese tourism’ to help ‘to a degree’, but this will dry up in September when schools reopen, and if there is no international tourism to speak of, many companies will have no choice but to close.

Says the CEO, a solution is for the government’s simplified lay-off scheme to be extended to “February or March” next year. Without it there will simply be a slew of business collapses.

Talking for roughly an hour, Pestana’s top man gave a graphic portrait of the losses suffered in the hotel industry.

After ‘one of the best February’s ever’ came months of lockdown. In Pestana’s case it was June before business started ‘picking up’.

Normally June would see the group ring up anything between €20- €23 million, Mr Theotónio told Antena 1. This year it made only €500,000.

Currently the ‘pousadas’ (hotels in historic buildings) are working at around 50% capacity. The ‘big hotels’ in areas like the Algarve, aren’t even at that.

What José Theotónio did stress was the ‘tragedy’ of Madeira – an island that has managed the pandemic so well that it hasn’t even suffered one death and cases have been ‘extremely limited’.

How is that any Briton visiting Madeira – which demands negative Covid-19 tests on arrival – has to then spend two weeks in quarantine when he/ she returns to UK?

A failure in diplomacy, asked his interviewers? Certainly a failure in communication, said the CEO who explained that until last Saturday, Britons visiting the Algarve were still able to dodge quarantine by flying in and out of Seville.

In the end, as so many before him have also stressed, if the virus situation was simply logged by regions, the whole of Portugal would have been deemed worthy of an air bridge with UK (and indeed other countries), minus Greater Lisbon.

Belgium has managed to work this out (it allows its citizens quarantine free travel to all destinations in Portugal except Lisbon), why has it been so difficult for other countries?

Again, Mr Theotónio referred to the “way we, the Portuguese communicate”. But he did say that while he is most certainly ‘worried’ about the situation for what is Portugal’s largest hotel group, he is ‘not desperate’.

Portugal has distinct advantages over competitors – whether in terms of its landscapes/ beaches/ historic towns and cities or indeed the warmth of its people and professionalism of its hotel and catering sectors.

As soon as things start picking up globally, the CEO believes Portugal will “have advantages”.

But until that time, the way ahead is going to be very tough indeed.

natasha.donn@algarveresident.com