Iceland led the world in announcing a reopening for international tourism, and Portugal is hot on its heels. 

What do they have in common? Besides claiming top spots in the World Peaceful Ranking, both have been highly praised for their fact-acting response to the global pandemic. And as a sidebar, both are favorites of Classic Journeys guests.

Keen to find out more, and what this means for those of us wanting to visit Portugal, we sat down with Classic Journeys founder Edward Piegza, and a panel of our expert insiders, including hoteliers from Lisbon, Evora and the Douro Valley, and two of our long-time local guides, Susana and Vanessa, to discuss what the ‘new normal’ of travel will be like in Portugal. 

After Iceland, why is Portugal able to reopen for tourism ahead of the rest of the world?

Vanessa: “Fortunately, Portugal has been a success case through this pandemic because of the government’s early measures to contain the spread of this deadly virus.”

Rita at Ritz Carlton Penha Longa Resort: “We have been very proactive, with a strong system in place to ensure that airports and the hospitality industry operate safely amid coronavirus.”
Europe Portugal Penha Longa Hotel
Susana: “The number of cases has been lowering and our government sees that as a good sign to a point of trusting the process of re-opening our air borders and airports to visitors.”

What is the status of coronavirus in Portugal? 

Susana: “The pandemic situation in Portugal has reached a stabilization and a progressive lowering of new cases and deaths. In fact, while it may seem too good to be true in Portugal, we have about the same number of cases of coronavirus as Spain has deaths from it. It was so good to celebrate no new cases to start June! There will be an increase in confirmed cases because our government has just announced that it will dramatically increase testing where I live, in Lisbon. It’s so they can have an even better idea of the situation and control it accordingly. So rather than signaling a spike of infection, consider it more of a spike in testing.”
Europe Portugal Lisbon Classic Journeys Guide Susana
Vanessa “Beginning May 4, the Government of Portugal is carefully moving on to reopening airports, hotels, restaurants, bars and other services.  People are slowing getting back to their normal lives.”
Rita: “We are in stage 3 of reopening and began June hitting a milestone. Our General Directorate of Health announced that June 1 was the first day with no new cases of infection.”

Edward: “In addition to constant contact with our colleagues in country, our tour operations team monitors the website visitportugal.com each day for official tourism announcements and coronatracker.com for WHO-recognized statistics. They have implemented thousands more tests this week and more testing can only be a good thing.”

How has Portugal so been successful in preventing the spread of coronavirus?

Vanessa: “The news reports about what was happening in Spain and Italy motivated citizens to abide by social distancing restrictions very early, which had a huge hand in containing  the number of cases in our country. This was a time when everyone really came together to accomplish a major goal. I am extremely proud of my fellow citizens and our leaders for the way they handled this crisis. In Portugal’s case, even really before the government declared the emergency, people decided on their own to go on confinement, not leaving their homes at all, and choosing a single family member to buy groceries, thus avoiding the possibilities of contracting or spreading the virus.”

Susana: “From the beginning, the borders with Spain (our only physical borders with another country) were closed. Airports were also closed. Despite having only a few cases, the state of emergency was declared very early (March 18th) to minimize the spreading of the virus. All non-essential activities were closed. We have had strict guidelines to stay home, stay two meters apart and to wear masks outside of our homes.” 

Ricardo at Convento Do Espinheiro: “We reacted quickly. Actually, a lot of businesses and individuals voluntarily stayed home before the government made it mandatory. And when the official order to shelter in place did arrive, it was before there had been a big spread, so we were able to contain it effectively. On top of that, there is all the testing that Edward and Susana just mentioned. As a country, we are among the European countries that have tested the most.”
Europe Portugal Convento

Iceland and some other countries are using a tracing app. Is Portugal using one? Or something similar?

Vanessa: “A Portuguese university has created one that is called “FollowMyHealth” that will warn users if they have been or are approaching places of potential contagion. On the other hand, it also serves to track suspicious cases of infection, the confirmed ones, and those who are prophylactic isolation.”

Rita: “As a country, we haven’t been officially using a tracing app.  But on May 25, a comprehensive national population survey began. It will assess the rate of COVID-19 infection throughout the country. When it’s finished, it will should provide a very comprehensive picture of how each region and age group is affected.”
 
Is Portugal going to implement a 14-day quarantine after arrival? 

Jan-Erik at Vintage House: “No. Unless someone tests positive with coronavirus on arrival. In this instance, there will be a mandatory period of quarantine for 14 days in a government designated hotel.”
Europe Portugal Vintage House
So, if there is no quarantine, will Portugal be testing everybody who enters the country like Iceland is doing? 

Susana: “Currently, travelers will be temperature-screened in airports in continental Portugal, but not coronavirus tested. However, as I mentioned, we have recently increased testing here in Lisbon, so maybe it will be announced that we will test all new arrivals.”

Vanessa: “Note that Susana says for continental Portugal, because that rule applies to the mainland but not the islands of Azores and Madeira. COVID-19 tests are being provided on arrival  on the nine Azores islands (unless a traveler has already been tested within 72 hours and holds a valid medical certificate confirming that they are coronavirus-free). It has been announced that the same will apply to arrivals on Madeira from July 1. I am watching closely to see if the mainland follows.”

As things stand for travelers arriving in mainland Portugal, what more can you tell us about the temperature check?

Edward: “ANA manages 10 airports in the region. They have implemented walk through camera systems to temperature check travelers in the following airports: Lisbon, Porto, Faro, Madeira and Ponta Delgada.”

Susana: “If a passenger’s  temperature is high, they will be taken to an isolation area for care by medical professionals. That will include a test for coronavirus if it the medical professional determine it is necessary.”

Turismo de Portugal has created a “Clean & Safe” stamp of approval to distinguish tourist activities, hotels, facilities and operators which are compliant with hygiene and cleaning requirements for the prevention and control of COVID-19 and other possible infections. How does this work?

Susana: “All kinds of businesses, including guides like Vanessa and I, hotels, bus companies, travel agencies, restaurants can attend free training on safety procedures surrounding COVID-19. After the training, the participant receives a seal which they can display to the public. In the case of the guides, our guide ID will have that seal on the new card that we will receive. It will be a recognized sign that the business/individual is trained in preventing the spread of infection.”
Europe Portugal Clean & Safe stamp tourist board Classic Journeys luxury tours
Vanessa: “Portugal pioneered this and it has been running since April 24, so is well established throughout the country now. We were praised for it in the latest World Tourism Organization meeting because no other European country has done anything like this. All businesses and hospitality professionals, including us, national guides, have to complete an on-line course to have this certification.”
 
Edward: “I would be surprised if other countries didn’t pick up on this and do something similar. We’re all for it. As travelers, it’s a very visible signal of people and places actively practicing effective procedures to stop the spread of COVID. You can eat in a restaurant where you have the reassurance that it’s set up for the best health and safety practices relating to COVID. And you can choose to stay in hotels that do the same.”
 
So what does traveling around Portugal look like? 

Susana: “In Lisbon, it’s so beautiful and sunny right now. Shops are open, and have a limited number of people allowed to prevent crowding. Restaurants are back up and running with new safety procedures. They operate on a reduced capacity and have been rearranged to allow for the appropriate distance between diners. Tour groups are definitely smaller. And there are no cruise ship passengers at all right now!”

Vanessa: “The fast train is operational connecting main cities throughout the country. All public transportation is available, as well as Ubers and taxis (each limiting capacity and requiring face masks). Street stores are open. Restaurants, cafes and our amazing pastry shops are open (again, with restricted capacity, social distancing and reduced opening times).”
Europe Portugal Classic Journeys Guide Vanessa
Edward: “My plan is to provide  you a personal account very soon. Until then, here’s what I am envisaging from our daily research and long conversations with our Portugese team in country: the Portugal we know and love, with its colorful, character-filled towns, stunning coastline and amazing cuisine. Add to that this  ‘new normal’ with the  Clean & Safe stamp for reassurance of stepped-up measures of hygiene. There will be fewer crowds around attractions. Restaurants will be quieter. And at least for a while, no cruise ship passengers.”
 
What kind of activities are open and available in Portugal? 

Vanessa: “This is my latest list of activities now available: beaches, water sports, boating and fishing, golf courses,  museums, palaces, art galleries, theaters, cinemas, restaurants, cafes and shops.

All of these are following the strict regulations issued by the National Health Board (meaning with continued social distancing and reduced capacity). The list is slowly growing!”

What if somebody tests positive while on vacation in Portugal?

Susana: “Everyone with the Clean & Safe stamp is prepared to deal with this safely and swiftly.”

Ricardo: “In our hotel and others, we have to ensure there is an employee specifically responsible for handling suspected cases. Anyone who appears symptomatic will be escorted to a safe, fully equipped, isolated area, where we will have a decontamination procedure ready to go for them.”

That is all reassuring, but even with all of the other safety measures, we’ve been conditioned to social distance. Is Portugal set up for social distanced traveling? 

Susana: “Like you all in the USA, we have become accustomed to social distancing and staying two meters apart from one another. There is reduced capacity in enclosed spaces, for example on buses, in restaurants, shops, and museums to ensure this.”
 
And how are Portugal’s hotels ensuring a safe stay?

Vanessa: “All hotels need to comply with the mandatory safety regulations and sanitation procedures in order to have the stamp of approval issued by Portugal’s Tourism Board. That is definitively a guarantee that all tourists should look for.”

Rita: “The Clean & Safe requirements mean that hotels have to comply in order to display the Clean & Safe marker to our guests.”

Jan-Erik “All employees are trained on preventing and controlling infection with hand cleaning, social distancing behavior, etc. Staff will be taking a twice daily temperature check. All employees have PPE, and we also have enough PPE for every guest. Surface disinfection takes place several times a day, and we have procedures to disinfect pools and spas. Alcohol cleaner is placed at entrances, exits and on each floor. We have been instructed how to keen enclosed spaces well aired. 
Ricardo: “The guidelines have been truly thorough, from the type of disinfection used, to new methods of removing and changing bed linens to protecting housekeeping staff.”

Will I have to wear a mask while traveling in Portugal? 
 
Vanessa: “It depends on where you are. The government decreed a mandatory use of protective masks in crowded, closed spaces, such as public transportation, schools, supermarkets and stores. But if you are in the countryside or go to an outdoor café, you do not need to wear it. A rule of thumb is whenever close human contact is involved, wear it.”

Portugal is looking very appealing, but what about getting to Portugal? What have you heard about flying? 

Susana: “Flights are resuming more regularly in June, including North America and Europe (apart from Spain and Italy.)”

Rita: “I know that Portuguese airports have a reinforced cleaning system in place, using UV and disinfectant technology. There are hand sanitizers at all points in the terminals. Passengers are using masks throughout terminals and keeping physical distance.”

Edward: “Flights with TAP Air Portugal between Newark and Lisbon resumed on June 4. Lisbon to Boston and Miami and Toronto resumes July 1, and Lisbon to Washing Dulles resumes August 1. Additionally, Air France /KLM, Delta, and others have resumed flights to Lisbon through hubs in Europe. Passengers will be asked to wear a mask when traveling.”

What does this mean for Classic Journeys guests who are reserved on tours to Portugal or who want to travel this year?

Edward: “It means that our 2020 Culture + Walking trips planned for September 12, October 3, and October 24 are good to go.  We have a number of guests reserved already on each of these departures, and we have seen an uptick in the last couple of weeks from travellers who have been anticipating the reopening of Portugal and who are now actively inquiring about reserving on the trips.  We’re also seeing guests who have different travel dates or who prefer to travel with just their own friends or family  tasking us with creating a private departure just for them. Since that accounts for 40%+ of our guests in a normal year, we are very happy to do that for travellers looking to join us in Portugal.”

Thank you, Edward, Susana, Vanessa, Rita, Ricardo and Jan-Erik. You’ve answered all of our questions, but our guests may still have more. Can they email you with any questions they have? 

Edward: “Of course! Send your question to edward.piegza@classicjourneys.com and we’ll be happy to share what we know.”
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