GBN talks to Oliver Key, General Manager at Penha Longa Resort in Portugal, about the impact of the pandemic on the resort and what steps they are taking to welcome back golfers from all over the world in the coming months.
GBN: UK travellers, including golfers, are very important to the Portuguese economy, so when Portugal was briefly added onto the UK’s ‘green list’ last month, what was the feeling around the resort?
Oliver Key: There was a great sense of anticipation to get back to business. There was also excitement to be busy, but also with a little trepidation and nervousness as it had been over a year since we experienced such high levels of leisure guests.
The team were delighted to hear of Portugal’s inclusion on the UK green list for travel, as well as the news from the Portuguese Government that British travellers were allowed to enter the country. It was news we had been eagerly waiting for. The European market and in particular, the UK has always played a significant role in the resort’s success, and we were extremely excited to welcome back British guests.
At Penha Longa, all our facilities were open and ready to welcome back international travellers with our renowned world-class service. We continued to comply with high levels of hygiene, occupancy restrictions, social distancing and face mask requirements, as outlined by local and national authorities, across all of our facilities including inside the enclosed public areas, restaurants, and bars.
GBN: Did you experience an influx of bookings for the short and long-term?
We saw an increase in the number of bookings for both the short and long-term. For the short term we were full for the last week of May, first week of June due to the half-term holidays in the UK, before business began to build rapidly for July and August. British travellers have always been very welcome throughout Portugal and as soon as the green list news was announced, we saw an immediate impact on our room reservations and golf course bookings.
The Portuguese population had evidently been adhering to our government’s guidelines and restrictions closely throughout the pandemic and the resulting improvements had allowed us to create a clear path to meet the requirements of the British Government’s green list.
Penha Longa Resort is often valued very highly by guests from the UK due to its close proximity. It is seen as being very easily accessible, with only a short flight required to Portugal’s capital, Lisbon.
As restrictions continue to evolve, we expect major disruptions across the world, with Portugal back on the UK’s amber list, how has this affected business for the summer and thereafter?
We are still optimistic that restrictions will begin to be lifted early in the UK’s summer holidays and people will be able to travel to Portugal without having to worry about quarantining upon their return.
Surprisingly, much of the business we took during the initial influx of bookings for July and August has remained on our books for now and we hope to see it stay that way throughout the remainder of the summer and later into the year.
GBN: Even though Portugal remains on the UK’s amber list for now, we would like to re-emphasize that the resort is always ready to welcome back international travellers, with the ongoing safety and security of our guests an upmost priority.
In a normal year, what percentage of golfers that visit Penha Longa come from the UK? Do you expect this to return in 2022, or do you think there will be a broader mix of nationalities?
2019 is the last full year that we would consider to be a ‘normal’ year at Penha Longa Resort. During that year a total of 28,529 rounds of golf were played across both our championship course, the Atlantic, and our nine-hole course, the Monastery.
Out of that total, golfers from the UK accounted for around 7,658 rounds, which as a percentage, is approximately 26.21%. The UK makes up a considerable amount of the golfers that play at the resort each year, however, we do also see golfers visit from other key markets in Europe such as France and Germany.
With travel restrictions currently still in place, it is too early for us to predict whether things will return to normal levels in 2022. However, having seen the bookings that came in early this year once Portugal was added to the UK’s travel green list, we are optimistic that there will be a considerable UK market volume once the restrictions begin to ease, as well as mixture of other nationalities looking to explore the resort’s world-class facilties.
GBN: How has the course developed and changed over the past 18 months, has low footfall resulted in any major projects or improved conditioning?
One of the things we were adamant about is that the course conditions would not suffer as a result of the lockdown earlier in the year when our golf courses were forced to close. During this period, we kept all of our golf maintenance team working and brought in additional staff members to work on projects such as bunker renovations, rough grass cleaning and clubhouse interior painting.
The closure of the courses gave us a good amount of time to maintain the high-levels of course conditions at the resort and get ready for high-levels of footfall that are expected to come once restrictions are eased and golfers are able to travel again.
Very recently, a guest remarked to me that he had never seen the courses at Penha Longa in such excellent conditions. This is testament to the hard work and dedication of our golf maintenance team who are always improving the courses to make sure that our guests receive the best possible experience whilst playing at the resort.
GBN: How is the business planning for remainder of the year without knowing when travel from the UK and other European destinations will fully resume?
We have to continue to prepare for the time when we get back to a period of sustained demand rather than the rollercoaster style of occupancies we have had recently. We are fortunate that we have many Portuguese guests who have decided to take holidays closer to home this year and with the restrictions easing in Spain, France and other parts of Europe we are still optimistic that we will have an excellent summer period.
We also expect the busy period to last a little longer than in the past with many fully vaccinated people taking later trips in September and October. With the UK planning to ease the majority of their restrictions from July 19, we are hoping that people who have been double vaccinated will be able to travel in and out of Portugal without having to quarantine, therefore increasing the possibility of attracting more travellers and golfers to the resort later in the summer.
GBN: Do you expect to see a change in trend for 2022, how will Penha Longa Resort adapt to the challenges of future bookings?
All of us at Penha Longa are hoping to see a return to normality in 2022. We are optimistic that next year will provide a rebound year for the resort. With this in mind, we are working hard to strengthen our product, making sure all our facilities are in the best possible shape to welcome back guests to Penha Longa that have been looking forward to visiting us for too long now. Penha Longa Resort is a truly magnificent destination, with our 27 holes of championship level golf, family-focused activities celebrating nature and tradition, and nine varied dining experiences, three of which hold coveted Michelin stars, and we are dedicated to providing an exclusive experience for all our guests.