Portugal the clear winner of Eurovision

Cyprus' Eleni Foureira (left) and Israel's Netta Barzilai (right) at the first semi-finals of this year's Eurovision Song Contest at the Altice Arena in Lisbon.
Cyprus' Eleni Foureira (left) and Israel's Netta Barzilai (right) at the first semi-finals of this year's Eurovision Song Contest at the Altice Arena in Lisbon.PHOTO: REUTERS

LISBON • The winner of this year's Eurovision song contest will be crowned on Saturday, but there is already one clear-cut winner: host country Portugal.

The event kicked into high gear on Tuesday in Lisbon with tens of thousands of music fans further boosting the record tourist numbers in the city.

After a week of rehearsals, contestants from 19 countries took 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 200 million people worldwide.

The annual contest, which began in 1956, was broadcast simultaneously on giant screens in the city's main Commerce Square overlooking the Tagus river, where music lovers can party for free with live shows throughout the event until Saturday's finals.

The Portuguese Hotel and Restaurants Association said hotel bookings had jumped 40 per cent in Eurovision week and expected the hoopla to lure more foreigners.

Reservations on online lodging marketplace Airbnb soared more than 80 per cent from the same week of last year to 54,000.

Portugal has enjoyed a tourism boom over the past few years with arrivals spiking 12 per cent 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 late last year, 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, joining the likes of movie stars 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 edition in Ukraine's capital Kiev.

This year's favourites include Cypriot singer Eleni Foureira with fiery song Fuego and Israel's Netta Barzilai delivering 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 last year, singing I Won't Break.

Britain's challenge this year will be spearheaded by London-born SuRie, who will perform her ballad Storm on Saturday.

The second semi-finals will take place today, with Saturday's finals featuring 26 participants.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2018, with the headline 'Portugal the clear winner of Eurovision'. Print Edition | Subscribe