With the first flights from the UK landing in Faro on Monday, 17 May, there was a flurry of excitement as press, dignitaries and family and friends greeted the new arrivals. With blue skies and temperatures tipping the 30 degree mark, Faro airport was filled with smiles for the first time in months and the airport reporting that during this first week over 5,000 seats per day are expected to arrive at the Algarve airport – with more to follow in the coming weeks.
Last week the British government announced that Portugal was one of the only European destinations to be on their “green list”, essentially meaning that now tourists visiting the country would only need to have negative PCR tests and there would be no need for quarantine upon return. The following day, the Portuguese government reciprocated the agreement, while also allowing non-essential travel for those from the UK and also from the majority of European countries, except from Cyprus, Croatia, the Netherlands and Sweden.
Tourists who had taken a gamble and booked flights for 17 May before the announcement, were able to come to the country for a much needed holiday in the sun, while others had managed to secure a seat on a flight after the announcement had been made.
The Portugal News was at Faro airport on 17 May and spoke with tourists as they stepped into the sunshine.
Looking forward to a break
Ian and Eileen Bond, a retired couple from the UK who have a holiday home in Portugal but are not residents in the country, told us that they had booked their flights to Portugal last year for this trip and have been long looking forward to returning to their second home. “We love being here in Portugal and are not worried about following the safety rules as they are very much like those in the UK. We have to follow rules here and that is it”.
Business Manager Carl (36) and hairdresser Louise (36), both from Leeds, said they were in need of a holiday in the sun. They have booked an eight night stay in Vilamoura and said they were aware of all the rules that are in place in Portugal regarding safety. “We booked our holiday in Vilamoura as soon as we found out that Portugal had been placed on the green list by the UK government”.
Meanwhile, Adam (22) and Jordan (21), students from Manchester said that they have booked a short break in the Algarve staying in Carvoeiro until Saturday. Both have been vaccinated in the UK and say that they feel safe here and are aware of all the rules. “We feel 100 percent safe. We are very happy to be here, we booked on Friday as soon as we found out that Portugal was also not imposing any quarantine and that we could now come out here for a holiday.”
Not everyone coming to the Algarve was coming for a holiday, some were at the airport to return to the UK. Residents Rita and Clive Cox said they were eager to return to the UK. “We were going to fly back for four weeks at Christmas but the flights were cancelled. We have had two more flights cancelled since then.”
They spoke of the paperwork and the sheer amount of information they have gone through to get on this flight: “The information has changed a lot and it’s expensive to fly now because although the flight was reasonable we have had to pay €100 each for tests to get back. We are excited to be getting back though as our daughter is pregnant and the baby is due in June, so we hope to be there for that as we have not seen her since she became pregnant.”
Happy to finally be in the sunshine
Away from the airport, the first arrivals begin to come to Praia do Carvoeiro in the central Algarve.
Niamh O’Connor and Tom Durno arrived in Faro from Birmingham airport and told The Portugal News: “We weren’t planning on taking a holiday at this time of the year but we had to take our annual leave from work and decided to book for 17 May after the announcements from Boris,” said Tom.
“We had lots of people telling us that they thought Portugal wouldn’t be on the green list but we thought we would take the risk and book it anyway, especially because the flights were so cheap from Ryanair, it felt like it was worth the risk.
“We were constantly checking the news to see if Portugal would be on the list and were so happy when we heard it was, we then just had to wait for the announcement from Portugal and we are so glad we took the risk because look at it here – it’s just beautiful. If we weren’t here right now we would be at home trying to force ourselves from going on the laptop and checking work emails,” said Niamh.
Tom added: “The process for getting here initially seemed overwhelming to be honest, there is so much on the government websites I have to admit we felt daunted but in reality it was very easy to get all of the paperwork sorted out and the tests done – so much so that now our friends are all asking for advice because they now feel confident to travel too.”
“When we heard that Portugal was extending the state of calamity until the end of the month we were sure we wouldn’t be able to travel but we already had our bags packed and were just hoping for the green light to go.
“I think we probably got better prices because we booked everything before the announcements were made but from what I can see the prices are still reasonable and we have been welcomed with open arms here”.
Where are all the tourists?
While at the airport thousands of new arrivals are landing, the positive effects are taking their time to trickle down in the region.
Sarah Toner, the manager at Harrys Bar in Carvoeiro, has lived and worked in the bar and restaurant industry in the Algarve for the past five years.
Sarah told The Portugal News: “So far we have not noticed any real change in the number of customers coming to the bar although the town itself seems to be more lively and there are definitely new faces around, however we have not seen an increase in British tourists.”
“Regular clients who are British expats but live here in the Algarve have been saying how excited they are that they can finally see family after such a long time without being able to travel between the two countries. One customer is on their way to the airport in Faro now to pick up their daughter and son in law and to meet their grandchild for the first time. I imagine there are going to be a lot of tears this week as families are reunited again.
“We rely very heavily on the British tourists, not only in this bar but also in the town in general. Our clients are usually 80 percent British during the summer period and without them it has been really tough.”
“We want tourists to know that Portugal is a safe and clean destination to visit, we have the great weather, the beaches and everyone here is complying with all of the rules – now all we need are the tourists back to enjoy it.”
Ana Cristina Guerreiro from O Barco Restaurant reiterated this sentiment: “We thought that today we would have a lot more British tourists here but so far this hasn’t happened, although we are optimistic that over the next week this will change because we rely 100% on the British tourists for our summer season. We welcome tourist from other parts of the world but it has always been the British who have been our main clients and the ones who return year after year.
“I am not worried about people coming to the Algarve and feel safe here. My mother has had her vaccine and so have many of the older people here in the Algarve. Also it is well known that we follow the rules here in Portugal. Everyone wears their masks, follows social distancing and this makes me feel confident that everything is under control.”
For full information about the travel restrictions in Portugal, please visit: https://www.visitportugal.com/en/content/covid-19-measures-implemented-portugal