The Secretary of State for Tourism, Rita Marques, said that the “best estimates” for national tourism by the end of 2021 point to a “growth of 20 to 30%”, in comparison with 2020.

“Most international organisations say that if the vaccination programme continues to develop at a reasonable rate in Europe, we will probably end the year of 2021 with a growth of 20 to 30 percent when compared to 2020,” she said.
Regarding the digital health passport proposed by the European Commission, the Secretary of State stressed that “we can travel today without any certificate”.

This is because the purpose of the certificate “is just to ensure that European countries harmonise their strategies, so that there is no quarantine or any tests have to be carried out”, she added.

In this sense, the minister recalled that “some Member States already have technological solutions that are very much in line with the digital health certificate” and gave the example of the island of Madeira, in Portugal.

“We have a fully operable solution in Madeira. If we travel there, we are asked to present, prior to the trip, a certificate saying that we have a negative test, that we are immune or that we have been vaccinated,” she said.

As “we cannot wait for the Commission’s documentation to be complete to start working, what Portugal has been defending is that each Member State should begin work immediately” to have an alternative technological solution while the Commission’s proposal is not yet ready.

As soon as the European Commission’s regulations “are ready and fully known”, Rita Marques calls on the Member States to “align and adapt as much as possible” the solutions underway in their countries with the “proposed purposes” by Brussels.

“Therefore, we cannot wait for June. We need to work as soon as possible,” urged the official.

Meanwhile, those working in tourism have spoken out about the problems they are facing, particularly in the Algarve region.

José Matias from the Pestana Group, told Lusa news agency: “In the Algarve, we are in a very bad situation, because we only survive as a business from the tourist golfers, there are very few residents who play golf in the region. In the first three months of 2021 alone, there are more than 300,000 rounds of golf that have not been played”.

He added that the Algarve has already missed out on “two high seasons of golf without tourists”, since during October last year, the other peak time of the year, “there was also a lockdown”.

The five golf courses that the group manages in the region represent 60,000 rounds not played in 2021, which is equivalent to losses of €2 million, according to José Matias.

“Our August is now. The high season of golf is in winter, we are in our very high season”.

“Golf is played by individual people, in the open and nothing is shared with other players including the balls and the clubs. Therefore it is hard to understand why our courses are closed while other activities are open,” he added.

However there are hopes for the future as Matias revealed that the group continues to “receive and reschedule reservations” from the English, Irish, Scots, Germans and Swedes, who are all “eager to come and play golf in the Algarve”, he stressed.

The problems are not reserved only for the golf courses in the Algarve, with marine tourist companies finding themselves in a “very critical situation”, after a “very short” summer, without the British market that would usually bolster the low season according to Carlos Viegas.

“There are companies that right now have boats for sale, as they are experiencing difficulties and the support that is offered is not enough”, Carlos Viegas, who belongs to the board of the Portuguese Association of Companies of Congresses, Tourist Entertainment and Events (APECATE), told Lusa.

The hope now is that the “vaccination passport” may allow the opening of the air corridors and justify the resumption of activity, he says, warning that this summer “is going to be very short”.