Paradise still unexplored

Rio in the Twilight Zone

Brazil is still very far from fulfilling its touristic potential. Despite its 7,500 kilometers (4,300 miles) of coast, the Amazon rainforest, the Iguaçú Falls and the cultural riches, the country attracts less attention than it deserves. Last year, only 6.5 million tourists landed in the country. It is huge, if you remember that this number was a meager 1.5 million in 1990. On the other hand, it is nothing if you compare it to the tourism influx of Spain, a particularly coveted destination but also a much smaller country. Spain attracted 52 million foreigners last year – lower than its average, thanks to the global crisis.

According to the Brazilian Tourism Ministry, last year 5.3 billion dollars were spent by foreign tourists in Brazil. This industry is responsible for at least 2 million jobs, a number that could triple if we include informal jobs plus bars and restaurants. Again, this may look good, but note that Brazilian tourists spent 10.89 billion dollars abroad in 2010. So, we are better exporters than importers of tourism.

Bodies still star Riotur's ads

There are several reasons that might explain the relative lack of interest for Brazilian attractions. First, the fact that Brazil is seen as a dangerous destination (the drug business, kidnappings and other sorts of crimes are broadly covered by the international media). Secondly, for many decades the Brazilian government made a very poor job in advertising the country beauties. Most of the material distributed abroad in the 70s and 80s would display naked ladies by the beach or dancing during Carnival. This stimulated sexual tourism and, somehow, may have scared families and conservative travelers. Embratur, the federal agency responsible for the promotion of tourism, progressed considerably in this department. Then, you have the chronic problem of lack of infrastructure (almost no railway system, roads that are not always in good shape) and of professionals poorly trained to offer a good service in hotels and restaurants. Also, here, there was considerable improvement in the last decades.

Embratur ad, 2009

In December, the Brazilian government announced its Plano Aquarela 2020 (Plan Watercolor 2020) that aims to double the number of foreign visitors in the next ten years. The 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games, that will be hosted by the country, should be instrumental to reach this target.

Also in December, the government published the results of a yearly poll made with foreign tourists interviewed in airports. It tries to detects how the country’s image is evolving. According to the 2009 poll:

  • 45% of the interviewees said the the population is the best attraction factor of Brazil, 23% mentioned the natural beauties, 18% preferred the beaches and the ocean, 14% chose the weather and 9% the diversity.
  • 68% considered the quality of the products and services offered high or very high.
  • 63% used the internet as their main source of information to organize the trip

All in all, Brazil seems to be well positioned to, finally, attract a larger number of visitors and boost an industry that can grow considerably.

10 thoughts on “Paradise still unexplored”

  1. you wonder why not more tourists come here? the country is not really set up for tourists. the people make it amazing but the communication skills is on both sides, minimal.
    its not that its not appreciated but its difficult to take time out for vacation anyway and when one hears that there are difficulties than we veer to another country less isolating. its grandeur is what is both its strength and weakness: very big, one out of every 20? people MIGHT speak a little language other than portuguese…inform your tourists the truth so if they really want to enjoy they take a portuguese class before coming.

  2. Yes, I agree this is a big part of the problem – common in most countries that are not in the immediate sphere of the US or England. When I mentioned the lack of training of tourism professionals, I was also referring to language skills.

  3. I live here in Brazil and from a favela. We learn english here too. Why the tourism agents do not hire us? We have many smart people here in Rocinha!


  4. Dear Regina,

    I think safety or the perception of lack of safety in Brazil still is the main factor the prevents further growth in the Tourism industry.
    In my opinion infra-structure, training and other contributing factors will come into place quickly and naturally when the demand for tourists is present.
    Brazil should focus in the basics right now, making their cities safer and then selling a new clean image of safety well marketed around the world.


  5. I tend to agree, Ray. Now, even if the country becomes safer, it will take a while to change its international image. Let’s keep in mind that Brazil has been portrayed as a crime paradise since the forties – I lost track of how many Hollywood movies show criminals dreaming of a refuge in Rio. I think this will be a long, very long process.
    And, Ray, thanks for being so present around here. I really appreciate it. This is a new project and your support is welcome.

  6. Brazil would do well to ease its visa requirements instead of playing tit-for-tat with the USA. I am a retired American who, having a home in Rio, would spend a lot more time and money in Brazil if I were given a visa for a longer stay or, even better, were allowed to stay without a visa.

    The only work I do in Brazil is what I expend keeping up my 0.73 hectare property. Not only do I not “take a job” from a Brazilian, I spend a lot of money employing caretakers, landscapers, painters and stonemasons there. The USA can scarcely afford its restrictive visa policy that keeps academics, inventors, scientists and engineers out. Brazil even less so.

  7. If you go to Brazil for vacation or to stay, learn the language. What bothers me is that English speaking foreigners demand locals to learn their Language. Why? It shows how lazy they are to learn another language or it shows how dumb they are not learn another language while claiming they have the “best” education in the world. Let’s be honest, Most Brits and People from the US are lazy people and aren’t capable of learning another Language.You can spin it all you want, but that’s the truth. Again, when you go to Brazil, for vacation or to stay, at least learn some words or take some courses to be true openminded. Safty is a problem, but let’s be clear here people, safty in the US is also a MAJOR problem while it claims to be “safe”. Yes, tourists are also being there shot and robbed pure in daylight, but of course some statistic freaks will come up, “but it’s not that high according to the government”.

  8. I tend to agree with Nicholas. I don’t expect tourists to speak perfect Portuguese (or whatever the local language of the country they are visiting), but would it is definitely more respectful towards the hosts to make an effort.

  9. Nicholas your attitude is another reason many people don’t come back to Brazil. You call Americans and Brits lazy? How is it then the Americans have built a country with 4 times the GDP of Brazil?

    You want tourists to go home and tell their friends what a great time they had in Brazil? Then treat them as if you value them, rather than disdain them. Honestly, not many people are going to spend months trying to learn a language just for a week of vacation. Personally I used Rosetta Stone for over a year before my first trip to Brazil, but found that the Brazilians don’t really speak Portuguese, Brazilian or otherwise. They ct off parts of the words, and speak so fast, I don’t know how they can even understand themselves You want tourists, you’re going to have to accommodate them.

    If the city and state governments want more tourists, they should also teach their policemen to be more friendly and helpful. That is another problem I’ve always had in Brazil. They treat tourists like they are all criminals. Still haven’t figured out why they do that.

  10. Unfortunately for Nicholas, Charlie is right on target. Before my (carioca) wife and our 2 little girls moved down here from Seattle, I thought I spoke Brazilian Portuguese fluently… HELLO? After nearly 8 months down here I can finally start to tease out what some people in the street, or on the bus, subway, etc. are saying. Of course, the USA is like that for newcomers, but it’s a far better understood situation there than down here. People look as if you’re retarded when you don’t respond at the same rate or accent inflection. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had some great experiences, but overall this place is not prepared for 2014 or 2016. Which is strange for such a long-time tourist destination.

    In response to Regina/Deep Brazil… this country has perfected the art of facilitating criminals because so many of them are involved in politics and ran the military! The reason crooks come here internationally is that it really is easy to disappear here- and still live a life. That has more to do with design and an unwillingness to responsibly clean up its act than anything else. Brazilian friends of mine believe the Portuguese heritage has corrupted the country. I don’t disagree with them.

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