Portugal's first-quarter tourist arrivals slump 92% amid COVID curbs

LISBON, April 30 (Reuters) - Foreign tourist arrivals to Portugal slumped 92% in the first quarter from a year ago as a sharp surge in COVID-19 infections at the start of the year forced the country into lockdown, official data showed on Friday.

The National Statistics Institute (INE) said just about 160,000 foreign visitors stayed in Portuguese hotels between January and March 2021. Portugal’s first lockdown started in mid-March 2020, meaning the first quarter of that year was still little affected.

Earlier on Friday, the statistics office showed Portugal’s tourism-dependent economy contracted 3.3% in the first quarter from the preceding three months.

Portugal went into its second lockdown for most of the past quarter, from mid-January until mid-March, to curb what was then the world’s worst COVID-19 surge, but has since gradually eased the restrictions.

Overnight stays by Britons, one of the country’s biggest foreign markets, fell 94% from a year ago, the INE said.

Portugal’s tourism sector - which accounted for almost 15% of GDP before the pandemic - had its worst results since the mid-1980s last year, with the number of foreign tourists slumping 76% to just under 4 million after a record 2019.

By Patrícia Vicente Rua, Editing by Andrei Khalip and Chizu Nomiyama