The Portuguese tourism industry is entering the summer holiday season with renewed hopes as the country opens its borders in mid-June and receives international recognition for a new nationwide health and safety protocol.

“We are open for business,” minister of economy and digital transition Pedro Siza Vieira tells fDi. “We already have in place measures to guarantee health and safety standards.”

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The reactivation of tourism is key for Portugal to transform its early resilience to the Covid-19 crisis into economic recovery. The industry accounts for 16.5% of GDP, growing at a rate of 4.2% in 2019, more than twice as fast as the overall economy, according to figures from the World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC).

The industry employed 902,400 people in 2019, which makes up 18.6% of total employment, and generated €21.6bn in visitor spend, or 23.5% of total exports, WTTC figures show, with international visitors accounting for 70% of total spending.

Portuguese authorities have moved early to put the industry in a position to adjust to the new standards of health and safety required by the Covid-19 crisis.

They worked with the WTTC to adopt ‘safe travels’ protocols and, eventually, received a safe travels stamp of approval from the same WTTC, which internationally validates the country’s efforts.

Of particular note is the ‘Clean & Safe’ programme introduced by the national tourism board, Turismo de Portugal, to distinguish tourist activities which are compliant with hygiene and cleaning requirements for the prevention and control of Covid-19 and other possible infections.

“Portugal has been committed to reassuring our tourists that they will always have the best experience in our country,” Rita Marques, secretary of state for tourism, said in a statement. “This stamp, together with our ‘Clean & Safe’ programme, is one step further in reassuring everyone that we care, our destination is focused on recovery, and trust is at the core of our business.”

The profile of Portugal’s visitors suggests caution, however, as some of the countries that have been the most affected by the pandemic account for the bulk of tourists to the country. Arrivals from the United Kingdom and Spain made up almost a third of total arrivals in 2019, while France and Germany accounted for another 12% and 11%, respectively, according to figures from the WTTC.

The effectiveness of the measures implemented by the government will therefore be key to prevent a second wave of infections and frustrate the country’s early resilience to Covid-19.

“The possibility of contagion has been significantly reduced by the measures we implemented, and the national health service as a whole has a more robust capacity to deal with any increase in infections,” Mr Siza Vieira says.

Portugal’s level of relative resilience to Covid-19 could potentially boost the country’s already valuable tourist proposition vis-a-vis other European countries that have struggled more with the virus. The country has also moved swiftly to equip its tourism industry with new upgraded hygiene standards. The flow of international visitors in the coming months will soon prove whether that is enough or not.