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Tourists take a photo near a beach in Cascais, Portugal, on June 6, 2022.PEDRO NUNES/Reuters

The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal surpassed eight million in January-June, making it the best first half on record, official data showed on Monday.

The National Statistics Institute said nearly 8.2 million foreigners stayed in Portuguese hotels in the period, up from 6.3 million a year ago and 7.4 million in the first six months of 2019, a record year for tourism before the COVID-19 pandemic crippled global travel in 2020.

Tourism, a key driver of Portugal’s economy, accounted for almost 15 per cent of gross domestic product before the pandemic.

Visitors from Britain made up the largest share of total arrivals in the first half, with over one million visitors, closely followed by the Spanish and U.S. markets.

In June, the United States, which has significantly grown as a source of tourism to Portugal, represented the second-largest group of foreign visitors.

The INE said the hotel sector registered 13.6 million guests, including local travellers, in the first half, while total hotel revenues increased 32 per cent year-on-year to €2.5-billion ($2.73-billion).

In a separate report, the INE said the number of passengers who travelled through Portuguese airports in the first six months jumped almost 30 per cent from a year ago and rose 12 per cent compared to the first half of 2019.

According to the International Air Transport Association, international travel reached around 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels this year, with the rebound being led by visitors to Southern Europe.

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