Portugal's tourism sector slumps back to 1980s levels amid pandemic

·1-min read
FILE PHOTO: A couple is seen next to rows of empty hammocks during the coronavirus pandemic in Albufeira, Portugal

LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's once-booming tourism sector suffered its worst results since the mid-1980s last year as the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns worldwide grounded flights and kept visitors away, official data showed on Monday.

The National Statistics Institute (INE) said just under 4 million foreign tourists stayed in Portuguese hotels in 2020, a near 76% slump from a record 16.4 million in 2019, while the number of overnight stays by non-residents dropped 75% to 12.3 million, its lowest level since 1984.

Tourism played a crucial role in Portugal's recovery from the 2010 economic and debt crisis.

Overnight stays by Britons, one of the country's biggest foreign markets, fell by over 78% from a year ago. There was also a massive drop in the Chinese and American markets, decreasing 82% and 87% respectively.

Total hotel revenues dropped 66% last year, INE said, partly cushioned by local tourism.

The government has said it is preparing a support package for the sector, including delayed loan-repayment schedules, debt-to-equity instruments and grants after Portugal's hotel association warned a further 100,000 jobs could be lost in 2021 if it did not receive targeted support..

A country of just over 10 million people, Portugal fared better than other nations in Europe in the first wave of the pandemic, but 2021 brought a devastating surge in infections and deaths, forcing the imposition of a strict lockdown last month.

Nearly 15,321 people have died of COVID-19 in Portugal, with cumulative infections at 785,756.

Portugal on Saturday extended a suspension of flights to and from Brazil and Britain to March 1, with only humanitarian and repatriation flights allowed.

(Reporting by Catarina Demony; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Heinrich)