Portugal has declared itself “open for business again” for tourism with the country’s beaches set to re-open on June 6.

Rita Marques, secretary of state for tourism, told a Global Travel and Tourism Resilience Council Summit that conditions will be in place to welcome visitors when routes open up.

“As soon as the beaches are open we will have the conditions to welcome anyone who will want to visit our country,” she said. “We are open for business again. I’m thrilled to say that.”

Marques said Portugal has worked throughout lockdown to adapt its tourism sector to new health and safety rules and protocols that will be required due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

It is also reported to be in talks with the UK governement about an ‘air bridge’ or ‘air corridor’ to allow travel wihout the need for 14-day isolation on return.

“We needed to be fast, agile, focused,” she said. “We needed to re-set our activity, adapt to survive.”

Marques said Portugal had enjoyed an “extraordinary” January and February, with double digit growth before the pandemic hit.

She said a tourism strategy implemented from 2016 had helped the destination grow at double the level of the European Union average.

And she said growth had been particularly focused in rural areas as the country sought to avoid problems of overtourism in popular hot spots.

“We invested a lot, and that was working,” she said. “Seasonality was reduced and we had very harmonised growth cross several geographies in Portugal.

“Then we hit this [Covid-19] wave. We expect to have an impact of around 50% this year, but we are very much optimistic about the possibility to rebound next year.”

Tourism businesses and employees in Portugal have been protected with furlough schemes and new credit facilities and grants, said Marques.

Now the country is implementing a phased unlock plan with the re-opening of beaches on June 6 the final step.

Marques said hotels and accommodation were never closed in Portugal because of the important role the sector plays in the economy.

And she confirmed the success of a new “clean and safe” health and safety accreditation that has been developed for accommodation providers to sign up to for free.

“This has been a huge success. It has been replicated by other countries. It was launched on April 24 and since then 50% of tourism companies have already got the stamp [of approval].”

Marques said that with 60% of visitors travelling to Portugal by air, the country was working on new protocols to build trust with carriers and to keep people safe in transport hubs.

“This outbreak is giving us the opportunity to reimagine and reform tourism for tomorrow,” she said. “We have a huge responsibility to re-invent tourism.”