Lisbon (awp / afp) – Hit hard by the third wave of the coronavirus epidemic and subject to new strict containment, Portugal is worried about the resumption of its tourism sector, the engine of an economy that has known in 2020 a historic recession of 7.6%.
Last year, exports of goods and services fell 18.6%, against an increase of 3.9% in 2019, mainly due to an “unprecedented collapse in tourism,” said the Institute on Friday. National Statistics, which revised downward the growth of gross domestic product (GDP) in the last quarter of 2020 (+ 0.2% quarterly, and -6.1% over one year).
“The situation remains very uncertain and unpredictable,” economist Pedro Braz Teixeira, director of the research firm of the Forum for Competitiveness, an association close to employers, told AFP.
“The third quarter of the year will be decisive, but it depends on several factors: the evolution of the pandemic, the progress of the vaccination campaign and the health situation of the countries from which the tourists come,” he explains. he.
Tourism, which represents more than 10% of Portuguese GDP, experienced a catastrophic 2020 which contributed to a recession unprecedented since the advent of democracy in 1974.
Despite a slight recovery last summer, thanks to the domestic market, Portugal lost in 2020 three quarters of the foreign tourists it had welcomed the previous year. In total, the hotel sector hosted 10.5 million people, after a record 27 million in 2019.
Containment until Easter
Professionals in the sector are hoping for a recovery in 2021, but the start of the season already seems compromised, since the general confinement imposed since mid-January could last until Easter.
“In January and February the tourist activity was almost nil, at Easter there will be no tourists and the summer will depend on the vaccination program, but given the delay in delivery of the doses, the situation looks complicated “, summarized the Secretary General of the Confederation of Tourism, Antonio Abrantes.
“Our financial resources are exhausted”, despairs the movement “Save tourism”, created by small operators in the sector, in a letter sent this week to the government to demand “lost funds” aid.
The socialist executive, which this year forecast growth of 5.4% driven by a revival of tourism, has already recognized that it will have to revise its forecasts downwards.
“Another weak tourist season will delay a full recovery of the sector” which could be postponed “to 2022 and possibly beyond,” warned the financial rating agency DBRS in an analysis note published in early February.
Vaccination of the British
“One of the hopes for the sector rests on the British vaccination program,” notes economist Joao Duque, professor at the Higher Institute of Economics and Management in Lisbon.
Portugal’s leading tourist market, Great Britain, where more than 18.6 million people have already received a dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, is aiming for a return to almost normal for the summer.
“If Portugal manages to restore confidence, it is rather a good sign for tourism”, notes Mr. Duque while flights from the United Kingdom remain suspended for the moment despite an improvement in the health situation .
To promote the resumption of tourism, the island of Madeira, a Portuguese region which depends on it in particular, has decided to fully open access to tourists able to prove that they have been vaccinated or that they have recovered from the Covid. in the past three months.
Another lifeline in perspective, the European recovery plan provides for 13.9 billion euros in lost funds for Portugal, which the country hopes to touch from the beginning of the summer.
“This aid should go massively towards tourism”, which has a leverage effect for the whole economy, recently defended the president of the agency for the promotion of tourism in the northern region of the country, Luis Pedro Martins.
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