Tourism is a significant part of Portugal’s economy, directly accounting for 8.1% of GVA in 2019. This fell sharply to 4.8% in 2020, with preliminary estimates from the Tourism Satellite Account for 2021 pointing to an increase to 5.8% of national GVA (up 27.3% on 2020). Tourism accounted for 20% of exports in 2019, falling to 10% in 2020 driven by a EUR 7.7 billion (58%) decline in tourism receipts. Activities related to accommodation, restaurants and similar services employed 283 700 people in 2020, 12% fewer than in 2019. This represents 6% of total employment in the country.

The Portuguese tourism sector experienced some recovery in 2021. Tourist accommodation data in 2021 showed growth, with total nights increasing 41% compared to 2020 (to 42.6 million nights), but remained 45.2% below 2019 levels. This was driven by a strong rebound in international nights. International tourists increased to 6.3 million, after a 75.6% decline (to 4.2 million) in 2020. International tourism receipts totalled EUR 9.9 billion, 46% below pre-pandemic levels.

The domestic market boosted recovery with a 33.9% growth in nights, to 22.5 million in 2021. This remained just 13.9% below pre-pandemic levels. Domestic tourists accounted for 53% of nights in all accommodation in 2021, up from just 33.6% in 2019.

Portugal recorded a strong 2022 summer season. Between June and August, the number of nights in accommodation was 3% above pre-pandemic levels. The Portuguese Central Bank expects tourism receipts to exceed 2019 levels in 2022. Inbound tourism is expected to return to pre-pandemic levels in 2023.

The Secretary of State for Tourism is integrated into the Ministry of Economy and Maritime Affairs. Turismo de Portugal, the national tourist authority, reports to the Secretary of State for Tourism, Trade and Services and is the only body with direct responsibility for tourism policy at the national level. The body also covers the promotion, training, investment and sustainability of tourism activities. Turismo de Portugal has tourism promotion offices covering priority tourism markets. Turismo de Portugal’s mission is to:

  • Develop and qualify tourist infrastructure.

  • Encourage and promote training.

  • Support investment in the tourism sector.

  • Coordinate the internal and external promotion of Portugal as a tourism destination.

  • Regulate and inspect gambling activity.

  • Plan and organise tourism.

  • Organise and link to the provinces and regions.

  • Organise and link to industry associations, stakeholders and customers.

At the regional level, there are five Regional Tourism Boards. These are corporate bodies under public law with a specific territorial scope. They act as destination management organisations with financial and administrative autonomy and are responsible for promotion in the domestic market and product development. Additionally, there are two Regional Directorates for Tourism with political and administrative autonomy covering the autonomous regions of Madeira and the Azores.

Turismo de Portugal develops and implements international promotion initiatives in co-ordination with seven Regional Tourism Promotion Agencies. These are non-profit, private law associations composed of private companies and Regional Tourism Boards. They have a formal contractual relationship with Turismo de Portugal for developing promotional activities in international markets.

The total budget of Turismo de Portugal in 2021 was EUR 343 million, of which half came from dedicated taxes (such as the gambling tax) and the remainder from EU Structural Funds and other public funding sources.

In 2021, Portugal launched the action plan “Reactivate Tourism - Building the Future, which aims to encourage the recovery of the national tourism sector and includes a EUR 6 billion investment plan.

The Plan is intended to guide both public and private tourism sectors, whose actions are fully integrated with the objectives of the Recovery and Resilience Plan and the Portugal 2030 Strategy. The Plan is composed of specific actions that aim to transform the sector in the short, medium and long term, significantly contributing to GDP growth and a fairer distribution of wealth. There are four axes of action: supporting companies, promoting safety, generating business and building a future. This Plan sets the target of exceeding EUR 27 billion in tourist receipts by 2027.

Policy responses covered by the priorities of the Reactivate Tourism - Building the Future Plan include:

  • business support

  • the “Clean and Safe” label (see Box 2.4)

  • qualifications

  • digitisation

  • mobility

  • climate transition and sustainability.

Business support includes employment, operational strategy, and addressing debt (see box below). EUR 3 million is expected to be directed to this element, out of a total of EUR 6 million for the entire plan. In terms of qualifications, for many years, the tourism sector has been based on a model of low qualifications and low wages.

Portugal developed new programmes in 2022 to support businesses and the tourism workforce. The Empresas Turismo 360º Program formalises a commitment to monitoring, aimed at supporting businesses in their journey of integrating Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) factors into organisational culture and business strategy. The Programme Formação +Próxima aims to train employees on a large scale in the sector with digital and face-to-face training, with content adapted to the needs of the future throughout the national territory and adapted to the diversity of tourism companies. The programme aims to train 75 000 professionals.

Portugal’s Sustainable Tourism Plan 2020-23 was created as a result of the recovery plan Reactivate Tourism - Building the Future, and is in line with the objectives of the UN SDGs and Portugal’s 2027 Tourism Strategy. This strategy was launched in 2017 with the vision to affirm tourism as a hub for economic, social and environmental development throughout the country, positioning Portugal as a key competitive and sustainable tourism destination. The set of initiatives covered by the Plan contribute to promoting an increasingly distinctive offer and to accelerating the sustainable growth of tourism companies. There are 18 actions which have been completed, and 77 are currently underway. The other actions will begin later in 2022-23.

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