Brazil Is Finally Finding a Way into the Foreign Tourist’s Hearts

Embratur adBrazil 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 –


  • Show Comments (8)

  • Jake McCrann

    One day I said “NO” and ended up with broken ribs and almost a broken leg. This is no fucking joke. You want to clean up Rio? Start with your fucking Police Force you FUCKING MORONS.

  • Jake McCrann

    You wonder why everyone is going to Salvador???? Go and ask the fucking POLICE MAFIA in COPACABANA.

    Dont you twits pay people to search the internet for opinion? Google “Robbed by the police” or some shit in “copacabana”. The favela LIVE off the tourists. They dont want to scare them away. But you have police IN UNIFORM coming up to tourists and asking them for “mil reals”. The stupid fucking police dont even speak english.

  • Jake McCrann

    I have seen with my own eyes a police beach buggy officer off-duty going around targeting tourists and asking them if they want to buy marijuana.

    So don’t tell me I am making up. I lived in Copacabana for 6 months and I saw it all with my own eyes. The problem in Zona Sul is THE POLICE MAFIA. EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. GO ASK ANYONE IN ZONA SUL. GO ON, GO AND FUCKING ASK THEM.

  • Jake McCrann

    Criminal pOlice mafia in Rio
    Most of the crime in Brasil against tourists is carried out by men in uniform in Rio. All the gang bangers want tourists. Its the police mafia who rob tourists.

    Police mafia when off duty go around offering tourists marijuana and cocaine so that they can help their on-duty buddies bust them.

    The problem in Rio is the fucking police.

    I would go as far to say that if you removed all the police force in Rio and allowed the favela gangs to police Rio you would have one major party centre of the world and ten times more tourists and 100 times more money. The problem is the police.

  • Capnamerca

    Jake . . .
    Can you post anything without using vulgarity and calling people names? What in the world is wrong with you? I have been reading this forum for a long time, and it’s always been rather civil, but you seem to be on drugs, or drunk most of the time.

    Do you think you could find somewhere else to hang out?

  • Zico

    Tourism in Brazil
    No American in their right mind would come down here on vacation. There are much safer, cheaper, non-visa destinations not just for Americans but for anyone. I notice that most Brazilians visiting the US go to Disney or NY, and not South Central Los Angeles (which is safer than Rio by a mile).

    There is, in reality, NO safe place for a foreign tourist in Brazil unles he has a guide/protector. Sad but true.

  • Capnamerca

    Some press from the U.S. on Brazil
    These are the stories the Americans read that scare them away from Brazil. All the pictures of sexy Carnaval queens, beautiful coasts and beaches, pristine forest, and other attractions cannot overcome such stories of atrocity.

  • Capnamerca

    Most . . . .
    Of my friends in the U.S. are afraid of Brazil, and I do not blame them. In my view, the majority of the violent crime in Brazil is due to the disparity of income. It is the same everywhere. Poverty induces people to commit crime. When the elite and the government are willing to share the wealth of Brazil with all of it’s citizens, the violent crime will be reduced.

    How many people understand that if a young man has the opportunity for a good education and a decent job, he is much less likely to turn to drugs and theft as a means of support? Or how many young women if given those same opportunities, will turn to prostitution?

    I have witnessed this reality in Asia, North America, and South America. It is the same everywhere. When given the opportunity, most young people will choose the path of work and reward. Brazil is a very rich country. There is enough to go around, and the rich can still be rich, but can also have the satisfaction of knowing they have improved their society, and contributed to the stability of the future of their country. Will they ever step up to the plate and do the right thing?

    The things the tourist fear about Brazil are not wholly the fault of the criminals, but more the fault of those who promote such crime by their greed and hoarding. Cause and effect. Good luck to Brazil in overcoming this situation.

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