What is the likely development of the Algarve’s summer? – Life’s a beach
As thermometers rise and remind us of the fact that summer is just around the corner, we must all acknowledge that the coming months will be accompanied by a series of changes due to the current pandemic.
Since cases were first reported back in December in China, the novel coronavirus has spread across the world and has prompted governments to enact a series of measures to curb its spread, including closing borders and imposing travel restrictions. In mid-March, free movement in Europe, the founding principle of the Schengen Area, was interrupted, and the external borders of the European Union (EU) were closed.
After two months, many European governments are now committed to relaunching economies, many of which, such as Portugal, rely heavily on tourism.
Last week, Brussels announced a series of recommendations to save the country’s summer holidays. “We all need holidays after this long confinement, but of course this is not going to be a normal summer,” acknowledged executive vice president Margrethe Vestager.
“With these measures, we want to ensure that it is not a lost summer”, in which families have to stay closed at home and the tourist sector sinks further into the crisis, she added, recalling that this is a “vital activity, on which million jobs and 10% of the EU’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) depend”.
There are several proposed hypotheses to resolve the hot topic on the table, such as the possibility of creating tourist “corridors” that would allow certain countries with low or decreasing infection rates to make exceptions regarding travel until the borders are fully opened.
The European Commission also proposes a phased and coordinated survey of travel restrictions between countries or regions with “similar epidemiological situations”, as well as the creation of health and safety protocols for beaches, hotels, campsites, local accommodations, cafes and restaurants, something Portugal has already laid out.
At the beginning of the month the European Commission, which has no direct power over border controls (the closure of borders being a national competence), urged the Member States belonging to the Schengen Area and the four associated States (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland) to extend, until 15th June, their temporary restriction on non-essential travel.
But can Europeans travel and receive tourists? Despite calls for this to be a coordinated movement, the answer to these questions depends on the origin and destination in question.
Portugal, which received 24 million tourists in 2019, started the second phase of lockdown deflation this week. Together with Italy and Spain, Portugal is one of the countries where the GDP depends most on tourism, in a total of 16.5%, according to the World Travel and Tourism Council.
Last week Prime Minister António Costa announced that the ‘bathing season’, that typically marks the time of the year locals and tourists alike start to flock to beaches, will begin on June 6, albeit with social distancing measures and whole set of rules covering furniture hygiene to beach towel etiquette, including a traffic light system, and an app to monitor the capacity of beaches nationwide. In an odd move, you can already go to the beach, as long as you follow social distancing rules, and these rules will tighten in June when the bathing season begins.
Although it is not yet clear whether international tourists will be able to return to the Algarve’s shores before 2021, some strategies have already begun to be outlined.
Turismo de Portugal created, for example, the “Clean & Safe” seal, which will “distinguish tourist activities that ensure compliance with hygiene and cleaning requirements for the prevention and control of COVID-19 and other possible infections”. In April, new travellers’ rights were made public in the Diário da República newspaper also, stipulating that consumers can receive a voucher in the same amount of the cost of their holiday or reschedule, until the end of 2021, reservations that had been made between the 13 March and 30 September 2020.
Unlike restaurants and other establishments, hotels were not forced to close by government decree, but many chose to close regardless due to lack of revenue. Now, some are starting to reopen, namely those specializing in rural tourism, with enhanced hygiene and safety measures.
Earlier this month, the president of the Portuguese Hospitality Association, Raul Martins, revealed to press that the process of reopening the hotels will be phased in most cases, and should be case-by-case, depending on the regions in which they operate.
According to Martins, July should dictate the true reopening of the sector in the more coastal areas, in the interior of the country, and on the islands, but, in the case of cities, such as Lisbon and Porto, the hotels are only likely to have business again in September.
Domestic tourism – the best course of action?
As in most European countries, the tourism sector in the Algarve should set its eyes on the domestic market in order to begin gathering revenue, as the lockdown starts to lift over the next few weeks. Eliderico Viegas, president of the Association of Hotels and Tourist Enterprises of the Algarve (AHETA), recently said in an interview with Bloomberg that he does not expect foreign tourists to return to the Algarve until next year, adding that many hotels may remain closed in 2020. Those who do open are likely to depend on reservations made by the Portuguese.
For now, it is known that the Portuguese Government has extended until 15 June the ban on flights from Portugal to and from countries outside the European Union, with some special exceptions. However, the Assembly of the Republic have guaranteed that their main objective is to work towards ensuring “that emigrants can come to Portugal in the summer”.