U.K. Tourists in Limbo as Portugal Weighs Travel Reopening

British travelers longing for a sunny getaway are waiting to hear whether they’ll have access to the beaches of Portugal after it held off on lifting entry restrictions on arrivals from the U.K.

A decision should be made “very soon,” a spokesman for Portugal’s Ministry of Home Affairs said on Friday, after an announcement widely expected a day earlier failed to materialize. The country will open its borders from Monday with a negative Covid-19 test, The Times reported earlier.

On Thursday, Presidency Minister Mariana Vieira da Silva said that there was still work to be done before updating rules that are in effect until May 16.

At stake is an already-delayed start to a summer season that’s crucial to airlines after the coronavirus triggered a slump that’s lasted more than a year. Carriers have pinned their hopes on a quick uptick after Portugal became one of a handful of destinations green-listed by Britain as it lifts a ban on overseas travel starting May 17.

But unless Portugal adjusts its own border policy, most Brits won’t be allowed in. Under the current rules, Portugal bars visitors from the U.K. unless they are residents or traveling for so-called essential purposes.

The Portuguese government is expected open its doors, especially after the Champions League soccer final was set for May 29 with two English teams. The contest was moved to Porto from Turkey, which is battling a virus outbreak and was red-listed by Britain.

EU Politics

Tourist-dependent European Union economies are eager to receive visitors from the U.K., which along with Germany is one of the biggest sources of tourists in the region.

For Portugal, there’s an added wrinkle to the calculation.

While European Union countries set their own border rules, the bloc currently restricts all non-essential travel from outside, except for a handful of third countries. Portugal currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union, so it has to balance the priorities of reopening the vital tourism industry with following EU policy.

Broader progress on travel within the region was made on Friday, when Italy said it would lift quarantine restrictions on tourists from the U.K., along with Israel and other E.U. countries starting May 16. Travelers with a negative Covid-19 test won’t need to undergo quarantine, a health ministry official said.

Italy isn’t on the U.K.’s green list, meaning Brits determined to go will need to quararantine on return. But as a major destination within Europe it will likely attract scores of tourists from places like Germany, the Netherlands and Scandinavia.

Time-Share Travails

Travelers have a lot at stake as well in the Portuguese decision.

Paul, an English farmer who didn’t give his last name, is part of a group of 13 family and friends who have booked tickets to Faro through various airlines and paid 60 pounds ($84) each for coronavirus tests. They own a three-week timeshare in the area with an annual slot that’s not movable from its allotted date starting next week.

“We take the risks because we have the timeshare out there,” said the 56-year-old from Shropshire, near England’s border with Wales. “It’s all very well people saying you should stay at home, but we didn’t go last year so we lost that money.”

For now, British residents won’t have many other choices if they’re shut out of Portugal. Spain and Greece were left off of Britain’s initial green list, making it harder for families to plan trips.

Airlines have scaled up flights to Portugal in anticipation of a surge in bookings. Ryanair Holdings Plc, Europe’s biggest discount carrier, has added 245,000 seats from the U.K. since last Friday, while EasyJet Plc has added 105,000 spots to the country and Gibraltar, another green-listed destination.

While passengers returning to the U.K. from green-lit places won’t be required to quarantine, they’ll still be subject to expensive Covid-19 tests. Arrivals from amber-lit countries face more tests and self-isolation, while people coming from red-coded places must stay in a hotel arranged by the government.

Vieira da Silva, the Portuguese minister, said Thursday that people who fly to Portugal to attend the Champions League final will have to follow strict rules preventing them from being in contact with the general population.

Those who attend the game will have to “comply with these rules of traveling in a bubble,” she said.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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