By Andrei Khalip
The Eurovision song contest kicked into high gear on Tuesday in Lisbon with tens of thousands of music fans further boosting the record tourist numbers in the city, where pop star Madonna fixed her residence last year
After a week of rehearsals, contestants from 19 countries will take to the stage of the 20,000-capacity Altice Arena on Tuesday in the first night of the semi-finals of the show watched by an estimated more than 200 million people around the world.
It will be broadcast simultaneously on giant screens on the city’s main Commerce Square overlooking the Tagus river, where music lovers can party for free with live shows throughout the event until the May 12 finals.
The Portuguese Hotel and Restaurants Association said hotel bookings had jumped 40 percent in Eurovision week and expected the event publicity to lure more foreigners. Reservations on the online lodging marketplace Airbnb soared over 80 percent from the same week of last year to 54,000.
Portugal as a whole, and Lisbon in particular, have enjoyed a tourism boom over the past few years with arrivals spiking 12 percent to a new record last year, contributing to the once-bailed out country’s strongest economic growth since 2000.
Dozens of new hotels and hundreds of apartments for temporary accommodation open every year, while a new cruise ship terminal unveiled in late 2017 doubled the number of arrivals by sea in the first quarter of this year from a year earlier.
Pop star Madonna was last year among a growing number of foreign residents in Portugal, among them movie stars like Monica Belucci and Michael Fassbender.
It is the first time Lisbon has hosted a Eurovision contest after Portugal’s Salvador Sobral won last year’s contest in Ukraine’s capital Kiev.
This year’s favorites include Cypriot singer Eleni Foureira with a fiery song “Fuego” and Israel’s Netta Barzilai singing “I’m Not Your Toy”, a fast-paced dance mix with a women’s empowerment twist.
The event also marks the return of Russia after it boycotted the contest last year amid tensions with Ukraine following Moscow’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014. It will be represented by Julia Samoylova who was unable to take part in 2017, singing “I Won’t Break”.
(Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Axel Bugge and Janet Lawrence)