2 Cities For The Price of 1: Portugal Turns Stopover Passengers into Tourists

Skift Take

TAP Air Portugal is one of a growing list of airlines encouraging transit passengers to explore the country during a long-haul layover. New figures show tens of thousands of travelers took the company up on its offer last year.

Most travelers see little more than the duty-free store during a short connection, but there’s an alternative approach that’s gaining momentum.

New data shows Portugal’s free stopover program brought more than 200,000 extra visitors to the country last year.

Flag carrier TAP Air Portugal offers the option for passengers to include a complimentary break in their journey in Lisbon or Porto. This can be on the outbound or return trip and can last between one and 10 days. 

The concept is presented as a win-win for all parties. Passengers get to see two countries for the price of one, and tourism enjoys a boost in the stopover location. Travelers typically receive exclusive discounts on the ground to incentivize local spending.

In Portugal, TAP has partnered with almost 150 businesses to offer special promotions for stopover guests. 

TAP reports that 214,000 customers took advantage of the program last year. For context, the airline carried 15.9 million passengers, although only a portion of these were on one-stop routes eligible for the scheme. 

The airline said almost half of stopover travelers purchased their tickets in Brazil, with 20% from the United States. The most popular final destinations included Barcelona, Madrid and Rome. 

It’s Not Just Portugal

The stopover concept is growing in popularity at airlines and tourism boards around the world.

Iceland was one of the early pioneers of the program, with Icelandair and low-cost carrier Play both offering free options to break up long-haul trips. Turkish Airlines, Spanish flag carrier Iberia, and Panama’s Copa Airlines all have similar schemes.

At a national level, last February Saudi Arabia launched an electronic stopover transit visa for visitors arriving in the country by air.

Other markets, such as Abu Dhabi, have worked hard to encourage travelers to spend time in the region between flights. This has taken the form of building more cultural attractions such as a UAE outpost of Paris’ Louvre museum.  

For its part, Portugal’s post-pandemic travel surge shows no sign of slowing. Both of the country’s biggest airports broke all-time passenger records in 2023. Lisbon handled more than 33 million travelers, while Porto saw 15 million.

Tourism accounts for almost 15% of the country’s gross domestic product.

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