May 26, 2020 / 11:24 AM / a month ago

Portugal talking to Britain to secure 'air bridge' for tourism - sources

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal and Britain are in talks to try and secure an air corridor for tourists that would allow British visitors to avoid a COVID-19 quarantine upon returning home, two Portuguese sources familiar with the situation said.

FILE PHOTO: People are seen at Carcavelos beach, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Cascais, Portugal May 23, 2020. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

Portugal’s tourism-dependent economy has been hard hit by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns at home and abroad, and authorities are trying to save at least part of the crucial summer season.

Britain, the main source of tourism for Portugal, will introduce a quarantine for travellers arriving from abroad from June 8, including returning Britons. Travellers will have to self-isolate for 14 days.

In 2019, more than 16 million foreign tourists visited Portugal, almost 20% of them from Britain.

One source said the talks were still in an initial phase.

Another said the government sought the air corridor both for Portuguese tourists visiting Britain and vice versa, and was hoping that Portugal’s relatively low coronavirus tally compared to countries like Spain or Britain would benefit tourism.

Portugal’s death toll of 1,330 and total cases at 30,788 are just a fraction of neighboring Spain’s nearly 27,000 dead and over 235,000 infected.

Approached for a comment, the foreign ministry told Reuters that Portugal had requested additional information after the British quarantine decision. Although it would not confirm nor deny any specific talks on a corridor, said it was optimistic about finding an acceptable solution.

“Given the relevant reciprocal interests, the foreign ministry is confident that it will be possible to agree a solution that meets these interests, especially concerning the coming summer season,” it said.

The tourism sector accounts for nearly 15% of Portugal’s gross domestic product and was one of the main drivers of its recovery from the 2010-14 economic and debt crisis.

The AHP hotel association has said over 90% of Portuguese hotels remain closed after a lockdown imposed in March, expecting revenue losses of up to 1.4 billion euros between March and June.

Reporting by SErgio Goncalves, writing by Andrei Khalip, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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