LISBON - The number of foreign tourists visiting Portugal in May jumped almost six times from the same month last year but still fell about 9% short of pre-coronavirus pandemic levels, the National Statistics Institute (INE) said on Thursday.

More than 1.58 million tourists visited in May, up from around 274,000 a year ago, when the country still had restrictions due to the pandemic, the INE said. In May 2019, however, the number stood at 1.73 million.

Portugal's tourism sector accounted for almost 15% of gross domestic product before the pandemic and was one of the main drivers of its recovery from the 2010-14 debt crisis.

Visitors from Britain accounted for the largest share of total arrivals in May at 16%, followed by France on 11.5%. The United States, that has recently grown as a source of tourism to Portugal, shared the third spot with Spain and Germany - each accounting for 10% of arrivals.

INE said that the hotel sector as a whole registered 2.5 million guests in May and total hotel revenue increased 3.6 times to 456.1 million euros ($456.7 million). The domestic market contributed 1.8 million overnight stays and external markets 4.7 million.

Portugal's hotel association AHP has said that tourism is recovering faster in Portugal than in other European countries, mostly thanks to its location, far from the war ravaging Ukraine, and people's perceptions of it as a safe place.

Still, the sector faces the same challenges of staffing shortages and rampant inflation as most other European countries.

(Reporting by Sergio Goncalves; Editing by Andrei Khalip, Alexandra Hudson)