June 4, 2020 / 1:00 PM / a month ago

Portugal's Pestana hotel chain sees slow recovery from virus

LISBON, June 4 (Reuters) - Portugal’s biggest hotel chain, the Pestana Group, is ready to welcome back tourists after tightening health safety measures, but is only confident of enough demand to reopen eight of its 76 properties so far, its CEO told Reuters.

Tourism, which accounts for about 15% of gross domestic product, was hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns in Portugal and abroad, which stopped almost all air travel and shut the land border with Spain.

Authorities and hoteliers are trying to save at least part of the key summer season. But first, there must be some normalisation of air and land connections to allow the return of foreign visitors, which in 2019 amounted to 16 million and represented 70% of nearly 70 million overnight stays.

“We are very concerned, but we are not desperate. Our maxim now is to gain flexibility. Therefore, we’re going to do an experiment, starting tomorrow, when we’ll open eight units” geared towards the domestic market, Jose Teothonio said.

One of the first properties to open is the luxury Pousada D. Afonso II, within the walls of the medieval castle of the city of Alcacer do Sal, 90 km (56 miles) south of Lisbon.

Pestana wants to open 25% of its capacity by July 1, and 50% by August-September, or more if there is enough demand, Theotonio said, though he does not have high expectations.

Ending 2020 with zero core earnings would be “a great result”, and harder to achieve than last year’s 180 million euros ($203 million), he said.

Cristina Siza Vieira, head of the Portuguese Hotel Association, said “the year is basically lost”, forecasting revenues could slump up to 89%.

Another hotel chain, Hoteis Real, had closed nine of its 10 hotels and will reopen two in mid June, but its CEO Eurico Almeida said he was “pessimistic about the summer.”

$1 = 0.8877 euros Editing by Andrei Khalip and Mark Potter

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