PORTUGAL is in security talks with UK authorities as
it prepares for an invasion of England football supporters for next summer’s
Euro 2004 championships.

Despite the notorious reputation of some travelling
England fans, Portugal tourism chiefs played down the concerns and insisted the
competition presented an opportunity to showcase lesser-known regions.

Tourism director Jose Antonio Preto da Silva said security
was being discussed but refused to give details. “Of course we have been
talking to the UK authorities about security. We are dealing with it,” he said.
“We hope it is a football game, not a boxing match.”

He denied that the potential trouble would overshadow
its promotion of the country.

Where England will play its group matches will not be
known until the end of the month. However, sources said all authorities –
including the tourist board – were hoping they were not drawn to play in the
Algarve or Lisbon. “People are nervous,” one source said.

One UK operator, The Villa Agency, has already
implemented its own security measures and banned all-male groups from its
properties (Travel Weekly June 9).

Many of the venues are in the north, a relatively unknown
region with the UK.

Da Silva said coverage of the tournament would raise
the profile and boost tourism in places such as Braga, Guimaraes, Aveiro and
Coimbra.

He predicted tourism would increase by 2% to 3% next
year but stressed the benefits of next summer’s tournament would be felt the
following year. A campaign is already underway to market Portugal on the back
of Euro 2004 with all promotional material featuring a football pitch.