Portugal is easing Covid-19 restrictions after a strict two-month lockdown which included shutting schools. Now cafes, museums and shops can receive visitors. It’s a comeback for Portugal, which in January had one of the world’s highest infection rates.
In this new phase, only 5 of the 278 municipalities are not covered by the most recent easing of lockdown rules. Portugal’s Council of Ministers decided that most of the country will continue in the last phase of the easing of measures, according to the rules that have applied since May 1.
Nevertheless Portugal’s travel and tourism industry continues to struggle.
Right now 27% of restaurants may enter insolvency proceedings, and 10% were not able to pay salaries last MarchPedro Machado, President of Centre of Portugal Tourism
With regard to accommodations, only half have been able to meet wage payment commitments. Pedro Machado, President of Centre of Portugal Tourism, reinforces his concern about unemployment, “which tends to get worse”, and highlights “the probability that some companies will shut down”.
Worldwide many travel & tourism businesses are on the brink of collapse. What are the latests figures regarding unemployment in your region?
The most worrying data points to the likelihood that we may have high unemployment. Due to the application of the layoff and simplified regime, and to the closure of many of our units there is no significant record of this unemployment now. However, there is worrying data for the near future.
The most worrying sign was made public in early April, and it shows that 27% of restaurants may enter insolvency proceedings, and that more than 10% of these companies were no longer able to pay salaries in March, which means that April came to aggravate the situation. In the short term, June and July, we may have worrying data regarding unemployment and the likelihood of certain companies deciding to end their operations.
Within Portugal’s central region, which cities were most affected by the pandemic? Is the region prepared to receive tourists?
The cities that had the highest transmissibility rate in our region were Miranda do Corvo, Penela and Carregal do Sal. Now we do not have cities with a high-risk level, which means that we have finally left this stage.
Today we can say that the entire Central region has indicators that allow us to resume our tourism activity, in particular the one associated with hospitality.
Restaurants can open their doors with a limit of up to 6 people per table and in the case of terraces up to 10. The entire region fulfils the conditions for this 4th phase of a gradual easing of lockdown.
What measures have you taken to help restore the travel and tourism industry?
Our government announced 22 billion euros of support, including 2790 non-repayable loans, particularly in the 4 structuring axes for these companies, treasury, tax and contributory relief, moratoriums bank lines, credit lines, job retention, and q simplified lay-off.
In investment, there are programs such as Adaptar, Covid IV, Covid innovation and, finally, support for non-salary fixed costs, with 750 million euros, that is, to seek help through instruments that support the economy, something that was announced by the government and through Visit Portugal, the Ministry of Economy, and the European Commission. But our mission and concern are essentially using these instruments, as fast as possible, so that this value reaches the companies and the companies’ employees.
What were the solutions that you found to fight this pandemic?
I would like to give examples that were used as a reference, such as the cities of Ourém, Tomar, Batalha, Viseu, and Aveiro. These are cities that perceived the sensitivity of what we were facing, of the losses and profitability, of the compulsory closures, of the establishments of micro-companies, companies that essentially depend on cash flows, and that created recovery programs to help with the treasury. On the one hand, through vouchers, namely Ourém and Tomar, or through other instruments, such as Batalha, which created city regulations to support companies’ liquidity.
These are examples that show concern and willingness to help solve immediate problems, but unfortunately some credit lines have not yet arrived in terms of liquidity to companies.
Centre Region is the first national region to have the audacity to start a “new chapter”. What campaigns or actions have been conducted?
Centre of Portugal Tourism launched several campaigns in 2020, after lockdown.
For instance “Chegou o Tempo” and “A Vida é Agora”, which are brand positioning campaigns that appeal to travellers to travel within the domestic market. They also appeal to citizens, so that the Portuguese do not let our companies die and especially the companies in the tourism sector that were most affected. This brought positive results in 2020, in which we achieved results in July, August, and September that exceeded the same period of 2019, particularly in the domestic market.
In 2021, after the efforts linked to the lockdown, we launched a national campaign in April, aimed at the sales of three and four-star units, and rural tourism, in which the “Continente” (a supermarket brand) cardholders, which makes up about 4 million people, have direct access to packages of two nights and breakfast at a very competitive price.
More recently, we launched the “Aqui Entre Nós” campaign, which has three pillars. We are again talking about the positioning of the brand or the affirmation of the product that the brand wants to have from a national point of view, particularly in the domestic and Spanish markets. We want to be at the forefront of attracting Spaniards for this summer, but it is also a loyalty campaign because we want to capture the Portuguese who were here in 2020. We want to have them back now and if possible, they can recommend to friends and family members, what they found last year in Central Portugal. In addition to positioning, we intend to stimulate consumption and may help with the need to inject cash into companies.
I understand that this year you launched a new project on the “Napoleonic Routes”. How can the French invasions and tourism coexist?
The project aims to enhance and connect elements of the material and immaterial heritage of the time of the French invasions and to transform it into a differentiated and sustainable tourism product, included in the European Cultural Route “Destino Napoleão”, of the European Council.
Integrated into an International Route, it will provide the creation of differentiating and striking programs for European History, enhancing international attraction at different periods of the year and enabling the tourism development of the regions involved, as well as their economic progress.
It is essentially a product meant to restructure cultural tourism affirmation and attractiveness since the region has many paths to offer. It is transversal to several municipal communities, like Serra da Estrela, Coimbra to the region of Leiria, to the west.
We have had good indicators that this product is appealing, and as it is a work that is being complemented with international partnerships, namely cross-border cooperation called Napotec, it is, in the end, this cross-border recovery program that will allow us to continue improving the attraction and valorization of our territories.
How do you foresee the future of tourism in Portugal’s Central Region?
As of 2020 and into this year, territories such as Central Portugal, the north, or the Alentejo, will surely be the preferred by many Portuguese people.
In the previous year, we had good results taking into account these preferences. The preference for Central Portugal comes essentially from the domestic market, tourism highly leveraged in nature, and active tourism.
We realize that active tourism, hiking, cycling, and others, leveraged by ecotourism or wine tourism, are clearly preferred by many people in Portugal, and this is where we will successfully invest in these destinations.