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UK Travel Policy Changes Lead to Upheaval for Portuguese Hoteliers

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When Portugal was added to the United Kingdom’s “Green List” — an permitted listing of worldwide locations through which vacationers didn’t have to quarantine on their return — on May 17, Portugal’s hoteliers have been ready for an inflow of bookings.

Excitement shortly turned to frustration when it was faraway from the listing three weeks later.

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After file months of lodge efficiency in January and February 2020, Portugal’s lodge business took an enormous hit due to the pandemic, with common every day fee and occupancy plummeting and turnover dropping by a median of 66% in 2020 in contrast to 2019.

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The nation is closely reliant on British vacationers, significantly in its Algarve area, the place 50% of airport arrivals come from the U.Ok.

In 2020, there was a two-week “air bridge” between two nations, nevertheless it supplied solely chilly consolation in a dismal 12 months, stated Sean Moriarty, CEO, Quinta do Lago, a golf resort within the Algarve area of Portugal, the place 60% of visitors come from the U.Ok.

“Our leisure business went from a huge 2019 to an almost zero [in] 2020,” Moriarty stated.

Meanwhile, Martinhal Family Hotels & Resorts, which operates properties within the Algarve, Cascais, Sagres and Lisbon, captured solely 25% of its 2019 income in 2020.

Portugal’s addition to the Green List in mid-May felt like a turning level, particularly on the verge of the U.Ok.’s June half-term college trip interval. Once Portugal was permitted, Martinhal noticed between 98% and 100% occupancy in three of its 4 household properties, stated Chitra Stern, proprietor and director of Elegant Group of Companies, the proprietor of Martinhal.

“There was a lot of pent-up demand for family travel, even with the expensive PCR tests,” Stern stated. “People took their chance, and as soon as they could get a flight out, they came.”

At Quinta do Lago, too, the mood completely shifted, Moriarty said.

“Our teams were working through the night to reply to everyone; there was huge energy about the place, and it really brought the Algarve back to life,” Moriarty stated. “Everybody was enjoying themselves and adhering to the rules. I think people that came here needed that mental break from their normal life, and people here needed that mental break of seeing tourism again.”

Prior to that point, hoteliers believed 2021 was another lost year, said Gonçalo Garcia, head of hospitality for Portugal at business advisory Cushman & Wakefield. But with Portugal approved for U.K. tourists, hotel operators jumped at the chance to win back lost revenue from more than a year of lost business.

“None of the other direct competitors for the summer season were on the Green List, which led to a significant increase in bookings and allowed hoteliers to charge higher amounts,” Garcia stated. “They have been already getting ready their operations for 2022. And all of the sudden that modified.”


On June 8, Portugal was downgraded to “Amber” designation. When he first heard the information, Moriarty was shocked. His eating places had 2,000 cancellations over two days. He continues to be assessing the injury to lodge bookings.

Sean Moriarty is CEO of Quinta do Lago, a golf resort within the Algarve area of Portugal.

“We’ve already had about 20% of bookings canceled, but many people don’t have to cancel this far out,” he stated. “We’d anticipated that there could be prior warning, and it was massively disappointing for us as resort operators, and for the individuals who had simply arrived and had to depart two days later.”

Stern had arranged PCR testing for guests at her properties and said she stopped counting after 600 cancellations. She added the hardest thing now is the uncertainty.

“We’re entering high season, and usually in the hotel industry you would plan things like staffing and outsourcing services for housekeeping well in advance,” she said. “It’s really difficult and complicated. We have a lot of fixed costs as a hotel, and we can’t switch those on and off.”

Martinhal is now focusing its marketing attention on its other strong markets — Germany, France, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg — but Stern said those tourists will never replace the volume of guests the U.K. brings in an average year.

Even at Discovery Hotel Management — which has a portfolio of 18 hotels spread across Portugal and only relies on the U.K. for 20% of its business — the news of Portugal’s status change was “a massive blow,” according to Luís Mexia Alves, the company’s CEO of Portugal.

“Bookings had increased by 100% when Portugal was added to the Green List, and a wave of cancellations for June and July immediately followed the U.K. government’s announcement,” he said.

He added the pandemic in general does not allow people and organizations to plan ahead with certainty, so last-minute changes to regulations are extraordinary hard to bear.

“If these limitations persist the impact in our business will be much greater due to other markets still struggling to lift their own restrictions,” he said.


Stern and Moriarty used the down time provided by 2020’s journey restrictions to deal with the true property divisions of their companies, that are outperforming predictions made earlier than the pandemic.

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Chitra Stern is proprietor and director of Elegant Group of Companies.

While the Martinhal Branded Residences is now greater than two-thirds bought out — a 3rd of that since March 2020 — Quinta do Lago Real Estate reported a 52% improve within the variety of leads this January, when put next to the beginning of 2020, and a 300% improve in gross sales, Stern stated. The U.Ok. continues to be its strongest market for that part of the enterprise, too, though there has additionally been an increase in curiosity domestically.

The mainstream lodge business in Portugal is hurting, though it’s going to probably see new life, maybe with new funding and operators, Stern stated.

“Unfortunately, some hotels will close down and may never reopen in the same way, but there are opportunities and investors working with local knowledge [who] can perhaps revive these hotels for a different purpose,” Stern stated.

Garcia stated the urge for food for lodge funding hasn’t diminished, though it’s largely on pause.

“Investors still believe in tourism. The fundamentals have not changed,” he stated. “But their risk perspective is different. We saw [from investors] an adjustment on price expectations after the first lockdown, which wasn’t balanced on the selling side. Over the past 12 months the gap has been adjusting, but it’s still wide enough to mean transactions generally aren’t happening.”

He added the hotel portfolio of ECS, the largest in Portugal, has all the conditions to transact by the end of the year. ECS’ hotel properties include the Conrad Algarve, Hilton Vilamoura As Cascatas Golf & Resort Spa and 10-asset NAU Hotels & Resorts.

“It is demonstrative of the willingness of investors to keep investing in tourism and in Portugal. There is genuine motivation from the buying and the selling side, but it’s a very complex deal,” he stated.

Garcia stated the market has all of the circumstances it wants to rebound.

“The Portuguese government has taken a path over the last 20 years, including tax incentives and persistent marketing, which has led to a strong market,” he stated.

People need to journey, and the market motivation is there, he added.

“What is not there is the condition to allow people to circulate freely,” Garcia stated.

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