Portugal’s tourism officials are saying their country is winning tourists, and they have the figures to prove it. The Portuguese Institute for National Statistics has released its report on travel to Portugal from May to June 2009, with the news that the total number of US travelers to this European nation increased since 2008 by close to 3 percent. This is in contrast to an almost 9 percent drop in US travelers to Europe in general in the same period.

In fact, the Portuguese Institute for National Statistics is claiming that the US was the only major market for Portugal to increase in the first 6 months of 2009, other than Austria. Overall, trans-Atlantic traffic was down in July. US visits to Europe for May were down 5.9 percent, according to the latest figures from the US Dept. of Commerce.

The US market to Portugal increased in May and June of 2009 by +7.7 percent and +2.7 percent in terms of hotel guests. The US became Portugal’s 8th biggest market in this category. In terms of hotel overnights, the market increased in May and June by +1.4 percent and +2.7 percent. Total guest revenue saw the U.S. become Portugal’s 6th biggest market with increases in June of +1.5 percent.

“Overall, the American market is well above average in Portugal when comparing with other markets,” said Turismo de Portugal spokesperson Jayme H. Simões. “We were surprised by the increase, and gratified that our hard work in the U.S. is resulting in this kind of growth, in this economic climate.”

Portugal had a 40 percent increase in American visitors over past three years. And in 2008, a report shows that the number of Americans arriving in Lisbon via cruise ships jumped 80 percent over 2007. American spending in Portugal between 2005 and 2007 jumped 58 percent.

Portuguese air carrier SATA (Azores Express) reported a record month in August 2009, of 8,287 passengers transported on its 14-airplane fleet, serving North America, Europe, and Portugal.

“In these uncertain times, American travelers are looking for two things–value for the dollar and the value of experience,” said Simões. “Portugal is strong on both counts. The country’s mild, year-round climate with its historical attractions, new and classic museums, and wine country make Portugal a memorable place to explore for the American traveler. Even with the exchange rate in Europe, Portugal is one of Europe’s best values.

In 2010 Portugal will open more than 35 new hotels and resorts. Another 80 are under construction or being renovated, many of them with 4- or 5-star ratings following new criteria of sustainability and environmental impact.