It’s been an eventful few years for Brazil. After the economic boom of the early 2000s, the country came out of the worst recession in its history in the second quarter of 2017.
Its last president was removed from office in 2016 following impeachment, and her successor has already survived an impeachment attempt of his own. A Zika virus outbreak has come and gone. The military took over Rio’s security operations to curb drug-related violence as recently as February 2018. And amid all this, the country has also hosted the two biggest sporting events on the planet, in the shape of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympics.
There’s an election coming up in October, and it’s fair to say that tourism isn’t one of the most pressing campaign topics. But what sort of shape is the visitor sector in? Bolstered by the Olympics, 2016 saw Brazil draw a record level of international arrivals: a total of some 6.6 million. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, last year was likely to have attracted a similar number.
Bolstered by the Olympics, 2016 saw Brazil draw a record level of international arrivals: a total of some 6.6 million
A tourism ministry survey in 2014 showed that 95% of international visitors were impressed enough by the country to want to return. Early 2018, meanwhile, saw 400,000 overseas tourists arrive over the Carnival period alone. And to borrow a line beloved of consular advisors, the majority of visits were trouble-free.
Scale of the challenge
But while 6.6 million yearly visitors may sound a lot, the figure is broadly equivalent to the annual number of tickets sold for the Eiffel Tower – and this from Brazil, the fifth largest country in the world, which plays home to some of the most extraordinary natural and cultural attractions on the planet. One argument is that there is potential to market the country more as a destination.
Christ the Redeemer’ landmark, Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Photo: Robert Nyman
“I think we do a very bad job at country branding,” says Gustavo Ribeiro, Content Director of independent current affairs outlet The Brazilian Report. “Most of our tourists come from Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay, so it’s not like we’re reaching out to people who don’t already know about Brazil. I don’t think we sell ourselves as well as we could. We have a lot of good stuff going on and we always tend to focus on women in small bikinis or football.”
It’s undeniable, too, that negative headlines concerning crime in Brazil have an influence on overseas perception. “We’ve got to be honest here. People are aware of these things,” says Colin Stewart, Chairman of the UK-based Latin American Travel Association (LATA). “The recession, the Zika virus and so on – these are all things that at the time can have an impact. But human nature is such that over time people move on.”
Reasons for optimism
There are reasons for optimism. The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report – a kind of acid test of a country’s current pulling power – placed Brazil in 27th place worldwide, up from 59th a decade earlier. The staging of the World Cup and Olympics, meanwhile, has left a legacy.
“You can see the impact it’s had on airports, infrastructure and tourism professionals,” says Helio Brito Jr, CEO of Welcome Brazil, a destination management company which has witnessed consistent double-figure growth since 2014. “Brazil is a country of entrepreneurs. People in the hospitality sector are more engaged now. It started with the World Cup, then gained a lot of body. The Olympics put us on a larger path of growth. But the growth is due to us – the businesspeople and the workforce.”
All the Brazilians on the labour force have smartphones nowadays. Three years ago that wasn’t true. Everybody’s connected now - Helio Brito Jr, Welcome Brazil
“Technology is an important trend too,” he adds. “All the Brazilians on the labour force have smartphones nowadays. Three years ago that wasn’t true. Everybody’s connected now.”
The government has its detractors, but one policy likely to augment the number of overseas tourists is the introduction in January 2018 of a new e-visa system for travellers from the US, Canada and Japan, making it simpler and cheaper for visitors from these countries to reach Brazil. The same system was introduced for travellers from Australia in November 2017. “It’s all about trying to open up Brazil to the world,” explains LATA’s Stewart.
There’s certainly plenty here for the world to see – and plenty more visitors that could be accommodated. “We are a country with a lot of potential,” says The Brazilian Report’s Ribeiro. “We have river beaches, ocean beaches, the Amazon Rainforest, the Pantanal. Anything that any other South American country has, we have and more. Tourism is getting better, but my point is it could get better faster if there were more concentrated efforts into developing the industry.”
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Brazil has had an eventful few years. After the economic boom of the early 2000s, the country came out of the worst recession in its history in the second quarter of 2017
The World Economic Forum’s 2017 Travel & Tourism Competitiveness Report placed Brazil in 27th place worldwide, up from 59th a decade earlier
A tourism ministry survey in 2014 showed that 95% of international visitors were impressed enough by the country to want to return
Early 2018 saw 400,000 overseas tourists arrive over the Carnival period alone
In January 2018, the government introduced a new e-visa system for travellers from the US, Canada and Japan, making it simpler and cheaper for visitors from these countries to reach Brazil