LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal will give vouchers to tourists forced to cancel their holiday plans in Portugal because of the coronavirus pandemic, allowing them to reschedule trips until the end of 2021, the secretary of state for tourism said on Thursday.
The new scheme comes into effect on Friday and applies to bookings through travel agencies or at accredited holiday accommodation, such as hotels or Airbnb properties, initially scheduled to take place between March 13 and Sept. 30 this year.
The vouchers are valid until Dec. 31, 2021, and eligible for refund in 2022 if the traveller is unable to make the trip during this time. Those who become unemployed between now and Sept. 30 can request a full refund.
“We are being absolute pioneers in the European context. Our priority is to safeguard consumer rights and the interests of economic operators, according to the principle of ‘don’t cancel, postpone’,” Secretary of State Rita Marques said in an online conference.
It is hoped the scheme will help to reduce the damage from a crisis that could reduce international travel by 39% this year, equivalent to 577 million fewer journeys - catastrophic for an industry that accounts for more than 10% of global gross domestic product (GDP) and employs 320 million people.
A total of 16.3 million foreign tourists visited Portugal last year, about half of which were from Britain, France, Germany and Spain.
However, global lockdowns and closed borders have thrown the tourism industry into turmoil, threatening nine years of record revenue in a sector credited as one of the main drivers of the country’s recovery from the financial crisis.
The government launched a 1.7 billion euro ($1.8 billion)credit line in March to support the sector, which hotel association AHP estimates will lose 1.3 billion to 1.4 billion euros of revenue between March and June.
A full 94% of hotels are closed and 85% of their workers laid off as nearly all prospective customers cancelled their plans, AHP’s survey data showed.
The country, which has so far reported 22,353 coronavirus cases and 820 deaths, is pinning its hopes on being viewed as a comparatively safe holiday spot when borders reopen, preparing policies including health safety certifications for hotels and protective equipment and coronavirus tests for employees and customers.
Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Victoria Waldersee and David Goodman