As lockdown and travel restrictions begin to lift around Europe, one country that is well prepared to welcome tourists back to its shores is Portugal, and in particular the Algarve in southern Portugal, its beaches having opened this last weekend.
The number of COVID-19 cases in the Algarve since January has been just 340, which is far less than most other southern European countries.
João Fernandes, President of Algarve Tourism commented that: “The country was quick to adopt preventive measures and extensive testing at an early stage to mitigate the spread of the pandemic, and as a result we have had much fewer cases than other European countries. Furthermore, the Algarve is one of the least affected regions in Portugal, and so we are now in a position to carefully plan a gradual reopening of its economic and social activity”.
The Algarve’s timeline for re-opening is as follows, with golf courses, marinas and car hire businesses already open but with strict health protocols. Restaurants opened on 18th May with 50% capacity restrictions and over a third of the region’s hotels are open, and by June 75% are expected to open and by July nearly all of them will be open. Public beaches opened on Saturday with health regulations and procedures in place and water parks will open throughout this month and July.
Back in April the region, in conjunction with Portugal Tourism, launched a “Safe & Clean” stamp, that certifies and gives training to businesses who comply with new hygiene measures. As João Fernandes says: “As a result of a large effort by the national authorities, public and private sector agents in the region to define the best practices in terms of safety and security, the Algarve is ready to restart its tourist activity. Sector agents in the region are strongly committed to reopening their businesses in a gradual, responsible and safe manner.”
The region’s beaches have new safety measures and beach assistants that will help visitors with information. You will notice colour coded signage indicating the level of occupancy of the beach (low/medium/full), which will be updated in real time on the app “Info Praia” (available in English) and APA website. Visitors will be expected to keep 1.5 metres apart unless they are in the same household and parasols will be spaced 3 metres apart. Swimming, water sports and surfing is allowed.
Fernandes commented that: “With over 100 sandy beaches to choose from, and with some several kilometres in length, it will be easy for visitors to distance themselves from others, should they want to. This year 87 of our beaches have been given ‘Blue Flag’ accreditation, an award given annually based on criteria such as water quality, services and user safety.”
As regards other attractions in the region, Zoomarine will open in this month as will Slide & Splash, while the Aquashow water park is expected to open in July. The number of people allowed into parks will be reduced with the wearing of masks compulsory in closed areas such as in restaurants and stores.
On arrival, you will find new measures in place at Faro International Airport in accordance with Health Entities and the National Civil Aviation Authority instructions, to ensure the protection of both passengers and staff. These include temperature measurement at arrivals, hand sanitizers at all points of the terminals, signage and disclosure of the use of a mask at the terminal, warnings for the need for extra hygiene care and the need for social distancing. There are also personal protection measures in place at service counters such as screens and the cleaning of public spaces and equipment are carried out with hospital-level disinfectants and the use of UV equipment.
If you take any form of public transport, you will find that measures have been put in place to isolate drivers from contact with passengers and the use of masks is mandatory for everyone on public transport in the region.
Fernandes says: “The priority now is to reassure visitors, workers and residents in general that their safety is our first concern. In this sense, the Algarve is very well prepared, as attested by the rapid adhesion of companies to the “Clean & Safe” seal.”
Naturally, the reopening of the tourist industry is very much dependent on borders being reopened and airlines allowed to operate once again. As Fernandes says: “This is an issue that obviously affects many countries, not just Algarve. All major European tourist destinations are keenly awaiting the EU guidelines on this matter. However, the Algarve has received some positive signs. Several international airlines and tour operators are showing great interest in restarting their operations to the region, some of which already have information on their websites and are taking holiday reservations.”
Some airlines now have schedules in place as regards flights from the UK and Ireland to Faro, with Ryanair starting to operate their flights from 21st June from Stansted, Dublin and Manchester. EasyJet will operate from 16th June with flights from Belfast, whilst Wizzair will offer 4 weekly frequencies from Luton from 16th June. British Airways hopes to resume its flights from July.
There are currently no quarantine measures in place when flying into Portugal. Portuguese Tourism and officials are currently in discussions with the British government about the possibility of an ‘air bridge’ that would mean Brits would not have to quarantine on their return from holiday. We await that outcome with great interest.
For more information on visiting the Algarve, please visit: www.visitalgarve.pt
Simon Burrell is Editor of Our Man On The Ground, a member of The British Guild of Travel Writers and professional photographer.
Photographs courtesy of Algarve Tourism