It has been widely reported that Portugal, along with Greece, is now in the process of planning to offer ‘air bridges’ for British tourists to escape controversial 14-day quarantines. Air bridges allow tourists to travel freely to other countries, without having to quarantine either when they arrive at their destination, or when they get back home. This type of governmental agreement between European nations and the UK is especially important for destinations in Portugal, that are highly reliant on UK tourism such as the Algarve. In 2019, the UK was Portugal’s second largest source market after Spain, with 2.9 million UK visits.
According to GlobalData’s pre-Covid-19 forecast, UK arrivals to Portugal were expected to grow at a year-on-year (YoY) increase of 3.1% in 2020. GlobalData’s Covid-19 forecast now expects a YoY decrease of -34% in 2020. In 2018, the contribution of travel and tourism to Portugal’s GDP was approximately 19%. The flow of UK tourism to Portugal is a significant reason as to why travel and tourism now acts as a key economic contributor for the country. The Portuguese tourist board has said that a ‘return for tourism is not far away’, although a date has not yet been announced. Portugal’s tourism board needs to undertake direct marketing to UK consumers now in order to strengthen its economic recovery when mass travel is allowed once again.
What is currently confusing for UK travellers who already have, or want to book, holidays to Portugal in the coming months is that the UK Government is yet to reveal details on when its quarantine policy might be introduced, how it would work and how long it will last. The introduction of any quarantine measures would have a severe impact on both inbound and outbound tourism flows in the UK. As the UK eases Covid-19 related restrictions regarding the public returning to their workplaces, many travellers will be put off holidaying internationally if they have to quarantine for two weeks when they return, as they cannot go back to work. UK citizens may be exempt from quarantine currently, but the lack of detail from the government means that nobody knows how long this will last for. This uncertainty may be worse than the actual measure itself.
The air bridge concept holds the potential to limit some of the damage that Covid-19 has created across the European tourism sector. However, national governments such as Portugal’s need to first assess whether this is safe to do. The economic benefit of an air bridge between the UK and Portugal would be huge, but many nations may still view the UK as a risky source market due to high infection and mortality rates.
Ultimately, the UK Government needs to confirm its plans around air bridges and quarantine schemes as soon as possible. The quicker this is done; the sooner it will give destinations that rely on UK tourism more clarity in terms of the levels of tourism they can expect in the coming months. Until then, tourism sectors in nations such as Portugal will continue to suffer from uncertainty.