Algarve businesspeople crave tourists and fear bankruptcy

Tourism sector is one of the most affected by the pandemic

Albufeira in pandemic – Photo: Elisabete Rodrigues | Sul Informação - File

Algarve entrepreneurs are eager for tourists and, anticipating yet another weak summer given the restrictions to contain the pandemic, they fear that many companies will not be able to withstand the winter and will go bankrupt.

Although, for many, the most common image of the Algarve is still the sun and the beach, it is the golf courses that at the end of winter "open" the tourist season in the region, attracting thousands of golfers, especially British, for a matches in the mild climate of southern Europe.

For some years now, this has been the engine that animates the typically seasonal tourism of the Algarve during the low season, but the pandemic is causing a real "disaster" in the sector, as players are prevented from playing.

«In the Algarve we are doing very poorly, because only the golf tourist lives, there are very few residents who play golf in the region. In the first three months of 2021 alone, more than 300 rounds of golf have not been played. It's a disaster», laments the director of Grupo Pestana for golf.

Speaking to Lusa, José Matias recalls that there are already «two high seasons of golf without tourists», since, in October of last year, the other time of year when the golf courses are full in the Algarve, «there was also lockdown".

The five golf courses that the group manages in the region represent 60 rounds that were not completed in 2021, which equates to losses of two million euros, underlines the also president of the Algarve Golf association.

«Our August is now. The high season of golf is in winter, we are in our very high season", he emphasizes, finding it strange that, with cases decreasing in the region, the sport "cannot be practiced", as "already happens in Madeira".

«Golf is played by individual people, on an open field, he doesn't share anything with the other player, neither the ball nor the golf clubs. Therefore, it is not understandable that we are closed and other activities are open», he says.

Many of the residents of golf developments are foreigners who bought a house to practice the sport and are "closed at home", only able to take walks on the courses, as is the case of a Dutch resident who approaches the Lusa report to ask José Matthias when you can play. But the answer is vague: "perhaps after Easter".

The official reveals that they continue to "receive and reschedule reservations" from the English, Irish, Scots, Germans and Swedes, who are "desiring to come play golf in the Algarve", he stresses.

Closer to the sea, the dismay is similar, with some maritime-tourism companies in "very critical situation", after a "very short" summer, without the British market that would allow them to collect revenue for the "desert crossing" in winter , points out Carlos Viegas.

«There are companies, at the moment, that have boats for sale, facing difficulties and the support is not enough either», emphasizes the businessman who belongs to the direction of the Portuguese Association of Congress, Touristic Entertainment and Events Companies (APECATE).

The hope now is that the "vaccination passport" can open the air corridors and justify the resumption of activity, he says, warning that this summer "will be very short".

With the credit moratoriums ending in September, Carlos Viegas fears that many companies "can't hold out" another winter, after having only managed to start operating in July in 2020.

Another businessman in the sector reports to Lusa that "there are many families" living off six months of work, but that they have to make ends meet when "they are idle", which cannot be achieved with just "a month or a month and means of work'.

However, there is still some hope for this summer: “[The] United Kingdom here for us is the world, it's everything. If they open [the air corridors] and we have good expectations and no pandemics and confinement, I think we will have a good summer», says Pedro Gregório.

In the area of ​​restaurants, however, optimism does not reign and a stroll through the streets of Albufeira in the last days of March reveals a city stripped of the usual animation that many British tourists bring at this time of year to what is called “the capital of tourism” in Algarve.

In Praia da Oura, the city's main entertainment area, one of the beach support bars is undergoing maintenance, but forecasts for opening, for now, "there is not" and everything depends on the "opening of the air corridors", he tells Lusa the owner.

“I'm doing maintenance. I don't know when I'm going to open and if there's no tourism it's not worth it, because last year I had to pay 38 employees for three months as if they were working and they were at home», assumes Jorge Brito.

The businessman reveals that "at this time" - March and April - the bachelor parties of English people are usually an "important source of income" and that they came to mean "more profit than in July or August".

Forecasts for the summer do not do, since, in Praia da Oura, «90% of the clientele is British», and everything depends on the opening, or not, of the air corridors with Portugal.