Brazil is still very far from fulfilling its touristic potential. Despite its 7,500 kilometers (4,300 miles) of coast, the Amazon rainforest, the Iguaçu 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.
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 Carnaval. 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.
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 detect how the country’s image is evolving. According to the 2009 poll:
* 45% of the interviewees said the population is the best attraction factor of Brazil, 23% mentioned the natural beauties, 18% prefered 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.
Brazilian born, French citizen, married to an American, Regina Scharf is the ultimate globetrotter. She graduated in Biology and Journalism from USP (Universidade de São Paulo) and has worked for Folha de S. Paulo, Gazeta Mercantil and Veja magazine as well as Radio France Internationale. Since 2004 she has lived in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the US. She authored or co-authored several books in Portuguese on environmental issues and was honored by the 2002 Reuters-IUCN Press award for Latin America and by the 2004 Prêmio Ethos. You can read more by her at Deep Brazil – www.deepbrazil.com.