Expat business owners in Madeira believe the return of British holidaymakers will help “rejuvenate” an island hit by a lack of tourism during the coronavirus pandemic.
Tourists flying from England began returning to the Portuguese island on Monday after the Government eased its foreign travel restrictions.
Nick Chambers, 52, who runs the Jasmin Tea House near the city of Funchal, said holidaymakers returning “brings life back to the island”.
“This island basically just lives on tourism,” he said. “To bring all the tourists back in again will just rejuvenate the island on every level.”
Sinead Moynihan, 55, who runs Moynihan’s Irish Bar in Funchal, said tourism restarting was “absolutely massive” for her business.
“It’s totally our market, our market is British,” she said.
Mr Chambers’ tea house closed in March last year amid the start of the pandemic, and while it reopened last summer, trade has dropped by 80% to 90%, he said.
The English-style tea house is located on the Levada dos Tornos between Monte and Camacha in the south of the island and relies on the custom of passing walkers.
Levadas are irrigation channels that help transport water around the island for agricultural purposes.
Mr Chambers’ guest numbers have dropped from a peak of 30 to 50 a day to as low as four or five a week – which are largely Portuguese visitors or other expats.
“As far as business has been concerned it has been awful,” Mr Chambers said.
He added: “We had some savings. All the savings have had to be used. We did have some help from the Government so that has been good.
“You do get to the stage when you are thinking what’s coming round the next corner. What’s going to happen? You do worry about it.
“You felt a bit down at times. It’s also been a bit sad just to see the island dying.
“It does feel a little bit depressing. You try and stay positive.”
Mr Chambers, who grew up in Stockport, Greater Manchester, and Wilmslow in Cheshire – and who has 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry, explained that he had been “constantly watching other countries’ news to see who’s flying in, when can they come in”.
His parents set up the tea house in 1995, with it closing for a few years from 2009 until its reopening in 2014.
Madeira is now on the Government’s green list of destinations, meaning people visiting from England do not need to quarantine on their return, and will only be required to take one post-arrival coronavirus test when back home.
According to the VisitMadeira website, current rules on the island mean bars and restaurants must close by 10pm, while there is a wider curfew from 11pm to 5am.
There is also a limit of five people per table and social distancing measures should be in place. Masks must be worn in public areas.
Mr Chambers said that after “ups and downs” he hoped potential returning custom would mean “getting some money back in the bank” as well as welcoming the opportunity to talk to and see people again.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
Mrs Moynihan said the pandemic’s impact on her bar had been “terrible” despite a mortgage suspension and local wage support.
Originally from Ireland, she and husband Tadhg, 62, travel back and forth between the Madeira and Cambridge where they run the Earl of Derby pub.
The pair returned to England on Tuesday to meet their one-year-old granddaughter for the first time.
Mrs Moynihan, who has run the Irish bar for 13 years, said custom had dropped as low as 10% of normal during the pandemic as locals are “not big drinkers”.
She said: “Had we not been established and been in business as long as we have, we wouldn’t have survived it.”
She hailed the return of tourists and joked: “Two Irish people saying ‘wow the Brits are coming’ is not normal.”