Madeira: Portuguese archipelago invests in development of safe destination brand

Landscape from 'Vereda dos Balcões' (Madeira Islands). The Portuguese islands will reopen to tourism on 1 July. The sector contributes to more than a quarter of Madeira's GDP. [APM/Francisco Correia]

The Portuguese islands of Madeira and Porto Santo will reopen to tourism on 1 July. After almost four months without revenue from one of its economic engines, the Atlantic archipelago’s regional government seems optimistic about the reopening, but experts caution that it might still be necessary to rethink the future of tourism.

If Portugal has been internationally praised for the way it handled the pandemic, Madeira Islands have even more reasons to smile. As of Tuesday (9 June), Madeira Islands have had a total of 90 COVID-19 positive cases, 85 of them already recovered and no deaths reported.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Regional Government of Madeira (RGM) applied strict measures to all the new arrivals, with many having to quarantine in the island’s hotel units. From 1 July, this social obligation will end.

From next month on, the RGM will implement a ‘Standardisation Plan for air Accessibility’. This plan stipulates parameters for the entire journey and arrival, specifically through the completion and submission of epidemiological surveys, thermal screening, the presentation of the COVID-19 test and monitoring.

“We must be pragmatic if we are to move forward, since there is no European consensus for control at source,” said the Regional Secretary of Tourism and Culture, Eduardo Jesus.

Besides the completion and submission of epidemiological inquiry and thermal screening on arrival at Madeira and Porto Santo airports, passengers may also bring their own negative test for COVID-19 disease, performed 72 hours before arrival.

“If they do so, when they disembark, they will proceed to their destination, upon presentation of the respective report, which may also be submitted in advance, together with the epidemiological inquiry, or loaded into a specific app for the Region”, Jesus said.

Disembarked passengers who have not taken the test will do so at the airport upon arrival. The RGM plans to pay the costs of the tests performed there.

The Regional Secretary Jesus is optimistic about the reopening of tourism, aware that the upturn will be difficult to predict. Jesus underlined that the Islands are “creating the conditions for everything to happen quickly, based on a denominator which is fundamental for the population, and for those who travel: trust and security”.

“In a tourist destination like Madeira, known centuries ago for its safety, we are working from an early stage to ensure that the doors are opened with extra care”, he added.

Health certification

In order to bring credibility to the destination, the RGM will launch a health certificate that can be obtained by all the companies and entities of the Islands.

Restaurants, travel agencies, hotels, rental companies, among others, will be obliged to have this certification in order to be authorised to open their business. Social distancing, the use of individual protection equipment and health safety are some of the factors that will be taken into account.

Jesus underlined that this measure was chosen because it provides comfort and safety to those who travel, “a fundamental component for the restoration of the well-being of all”.

Certifications will begin in early July, with the capacity to respond to a monthly average of 150 companies or entities.

Looking to the future

Pedro Costa, director of Quinta do Furão, a hotel on the north side of Madeira Island, summed up the strategy: “We all have a great desire to travel. When it comes to choosing, tourists will look at the destinations that are more responsible.”

But he still sees the recovery of tourism with some concern. “We may have a more positive perspective than other hotels in the region because we are very focused on the German market and the measures presented by the German Chancellor signal good prospects”, Costa said.

Costa sees the measures implemented by the RGM as a positive step for the sector. After three months without invoicing and “surviving with a great effort”, the hotel director said that any measures that help break down the barriers of the sector are welcomed.

The region’s tourism sector contributes to more than a quarter (26%) of Madeira’s GDP. This means that with each week of inactivity, the total GDP of the archipelago shrinks by more than 0.5%, corresponding to a monthly decline of reaching about 2.2%, a loss of around €110 million each month.

“At this stage, it is time to rethink the future of tourism and apply our resilience”, said Bruno Freitas, CEO of Savoy Signature group, chain of hotels.

The uncertainties in the main markets of origin and the speed with which European airlines will resume full activity are generating some uncertainty about customers’ behaviour and decisions.

Freitas stressed that 2020 will be a year that will force the group to rethink its plan, forcing an optimisation of its resources. “It is not expected that the resumption of activity will happen at the levels of the recent past, at least until the end of 2021”, he said.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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