LISBON (Reuters) - The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal slightly surpassed pre-pandemic levels in July for the first time since the end of most COVID-19 restrictions, data from the National Statistics Institute (INE) showed on Wednesday.
More than 1.8 million foreigners stayed in Portuguese hotels last month, up from around 600,000 a year ago, when the country still had some restrictions in place, and slightly above 1.78 million in July of 2019, which was a record year for tourism.
Portugal's tourism sector accounted for almost 15% of gross domestic product before the pandemic that broke out in early 2020, crippling global travel.
Still, the cumulative number of foreign visitors in the first seven months of the year, at 8.1 million, was still about a million short of the same period of 2019.
Visitors from neighbouring Spain accounted for the largest share of total arrivals in July with 285,900, followed by Britain and the United States, which has recently grown as a source of tourism to Portugal.
Tourism has been recovering not least thanks to Portugal's location on Europe's southwest tip far from the war ravaging Ukraine, and people's general perception of it as a safe place. Still, the sector faces the same challenges of staffing shortages and rampant inflation as most other European countries.
(Reporting by Patrícia Vicente Rua; Editing by Andrei Khalip and Chizu Nomiyama)