By Sergio Goncalves
LISBON (Reuters) - Tourism is rebounding more quickly in Portugal than in some parts of Europe, but the number of foreign visitors this year is still expected to lag the pre-pandemic record of 2019, the country's hotel association AHP said on Monday.
The number of tourists visiting Portugal recovered to 5.9 million in 2021, a year after plunging to 3.9 million, its worst results since the mid-1980s and far off the record 16.4 million in 2019.
The chief executive of Portugal's hotel association AHP, Cristina Siza Vieira, said demand was set to increase "immensely" during the summer season, with hotels expecting to reach pre-pandemic levels over that period.
Bernardo Trindade, AHP's president, said recovery of tourism in Portugal was happening faster than in other European countries, mostly thanks to its location, far from the war ravaging Ukraine, and people's perceptions of it as a safe place to visit.
But when looking at 2022 as a whole hoteliers are not as optimistic, Siza Vieira told Reuters.
"Possibly, when we close the year in December, we could get close to 2019 levels but not at the same level yet," she said.
There are two big challenges the sector is facing: staffing shortages and rampant inflation, Siza Vieira explained.
According to Portugal's statistics office INE, hotels and restaurants employed 266,600 people in the first quarter of 2022, 45,200 more than in the same period last year, but 33,200 less than in the first three months of 2019.
Portugal's tourism sector accounted for almost 15% of gross domestic product before the pandemic and was one of the main drivers of its recovery from the 2010-14 economic and debt crisis.
(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Catarina Demony and David Gregorio)