Everything is superlative in São Paulo, from the size of the city to the
volume of tourists who arrive here every year – 7.5 million, according to São
Paulo Tourism, an organization of the municipal government. And the figures go
on: there are 12,500 restaurants, 550 hotels, 280 cinemas, 71 museums, 120
theatres, 72 shopping centers, 34 parks, among other attractions.
But being a grayish city, made of concrete, with few natural gifts, São Paulo does not have a tradition in leisure tourism, only business. In recent years, though, the city started changing its features, and proving that it can also be a cultural, hyped up metropolis.
Combined with that process, there is an ongoing effort of the São Paulo city hall aimed at constantly improving the reception of business tourists, and at showing them the city that lies outside the office, far beyond Paulista avenue, the main business district. To that extent, a lot has been taking place – from taxi drivers taking English lessons to better cater to tourists, to partnerships between hotels, theaters, and cinemas to offer discounts on fees.
The “new” São Paulo has already been featured in newspapers such as The New York Times and the French Le Monde. Trendy hotels such as the Unique and the Emiliano, and restaurants such as the traditional Figueira Rubayat and the more modern Spot define the “economic and cultural capital of Brazil,” according to The New York Times.
But the old São Paulo – with its Municipal Theater, the Pinacoteca (Art Gallery), the Luz Train Station – and the prosaic São Paulo – with its free fairs, the Municipal Market, and 25 de Março (a street known for its vendors and popular stores) – are also in the route of tourists.
And since everything changes very fast in the city, the most visited spots also vary. According to São Paulo Tourism, the tourist sector arm of the city hall, after the visit of Pope Benedict XVI, in May, the monasteries Mosteiro São Bento, where he stayed, and Mosteiro da Luz, where the canonization of Friar Galvão was made official, became the two new tourist spots in the city.
Of all the most visited spots, though, the very first place still belongs to the Ibirapuera Park, one of the few existing green areas in the capital of the state of São Paulo. In second place comes the São Paulo Art Museum (MASP) and Paulista Museum – more widely known as the Ipiranga Museum.
Being the “capital of business,” with its 90,000 events per year, São Paulo Tourism realized that people who come on work trips are potential leisure tourists. Based on that idea, the organization launched the program “Stay another day.” As the name shows, the objective is to have businessmen and businesswomen sleep at least one extra night in the city, using the additional time for some leisure activity.
One more night’s stay by these tourists would increase tourism revenues in the city by 1 billion Brazilian reais (US$ 515.5 million), according to the organization, and would yield 65,000 new jobs. The program was launched less than a year ago.
According to Caio Luiz de Carvalho, president of São Paulo Tourism, before the program was even launched, an improvement has already been felt in the occupation rate of the hotel sector from 2005 to 2006. “During that period, there was a 9.6% increase in the hotel occupation rate,” he says.
Carvalho said business tourists, even staying for a short time span, spend twice as much as leisure tourists. “The former leaves approximately US$ 300 a day in São Paulo, whereas those who go on trips to northeastern Brazil spend half that amount,” he stated.
Aline Del Manto, a Tourism professor at the Senac University Center, claims that the growth in tourism in the city can be perceived by looking at the collection of the Tax on Services (ISS).
“In the last three years, ISS collection has been increasing with each new month, with each new year. This is directly linked to the use of services – not just hotels and restaurants, but also cinemas, theaters, stores, etc.,” says the professor, who also works for São Paulo Tourism.
In the opinion of Caio Luiz de Carvalho, the Emirates Airline flight, which will be inaugurated in October – there will be six weekly flights between Dubai and São Paulo – is not going to increase tourist quantity in the city, but rather quality.
“The new flight will bring to São Paulo a new type of executive and tourist, with a high buying power. This flight represents a much awaited link not just to Dubai, but also to many other cities in the East,” says Carvalho.
To that extent, the Brazilian Tourist Institute (Embratur) has been promoting familiarization with the new public that will start arriving here in the second half of the year. According to Jeanine Pires, the president of Embratur, the tourist agency of the Arab company, Emirates Holiday, works with four different destinations: Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo (Southeast), Foz do Iguaçu (South) and Manaus (North) – for the latter, the idea is to carry out partnership work with the Brazilian Export and Investment Promotion Agency (Apex) to promote the city in events and fairs throughout the world.
According to Pires, a team from Embratur collected information about the tourists that should come from the East with the new flight. “They are people who travel with their families, and usually spend long periods of time in their chosen destinations. Furthermore, they seek sophisticated, luxury hotels,” says Embratur’s chief. “They are also very interested in the culture of the country they are visiting, and they like to go shopping.”
More Business, More Tourists
In 2006, São Paulo overcame Rio de Janeiro in terms of number of international events, according to data from the International Congress and Convention Association (ICCA). The capital of São Paulo ranked 18th, with 54 international events, ahead of Rio de Janeiro, traditionally the best ranking Brazilian city, which ranked 26th, at 48 events.
Brazil as a whole ranked seventh with 207 international meetings. It is worth noting that the ranking only includes events that meet the ICCA criteria – among them, having more than 50 participants, and having been held in other countries before. But to judge from the São Paulo Convention & Visitors Bureau, come 2008, the city will occupy the 10th position in the ranking.
Outside the strict ICCA rules, São Paulo hosts a myriad of events. According to the São Paulo Convention, the city holds an average of one event every six minutes, including congresses, symposia, conventions, conferences, and others.
In 2003, the Embratur established a special board for the business and events segment. According to Marcelo Pedroso, who is currently the director for the segment, the aim is to foster the sector more and more in the country.
According to Pedroso, 29.1% of tourism in Brazil is business-oriented. And those who come on work trips stay in hotels more than those who come on leisure trips: 87% against 68%.
“The business tourist is potentially a leisure tourist. We even carry out work in foreign countries, at fairs and events, in order to present to them the possibility of staying in Brazil a few more days,” says Pedroso.
“We are outlining a profile of those who come to work, so we can find out what their interests and their consumer profile are, and if they are interested in getting to know the country better.”
According to Pedroso, although the idea is to distribute the events more and more across other Brazilian cities, São Paulo has an infrastructure that puts it on equal terms with other large cities in the world. In other words, there still is a lot of space for growth when it comes to events.
One of the segments that attracts the most congresses in the city is the medical one. With the success of São Paulo Fashion Week, fashion also attracts foreigners. And there are also more irreverent ones, such as the Gay Parade, which took place this past weekend (June 10), which takes three million people to Paulista avenue.
“São Paulo is a city that sets trends and fashions. The word intolerance does not exist in its vocabulary,” Carvalho, of São Paulo Tourism, sums it up.
Before convincing tourists that São Paulo is a good destination, one must convince its citizens that the city is good. If people who were born, or who live in the city value the city, it gets easier to receive visitors.
With that in mind, the São Paulo Convention & Visitors Bureau launched, in 2006, the campaign “São Paulo é Tudo de Bom” (“São Paulo Is All the Best”), to encourage citizens to love the city. The campaign features celebrities and is transmitted in newspapers, radios, TV, and magazines from all over the country.
“It is worth recalling that, although they are not very used to foreigners, citizens of São Paulo treat tourists very well. São Paulo ranked fifth in the ranking of Latin America’s most receptive cities,” stated Carvalho, of São Paulo Tourism.
On Foot, by Metro or by Taxi
The Stay one more Day program is, in reality, a great guide that simplifies the tourist’s life. It lists ten tours that contemplate various kinds of program in six distinct regions of the city. The idea is to make the tourist create his program starting with two menus: ten one-day theme tours and the best places in six regions of the city.
This way, he can opt for the tour that is most connected to his profile or is closer to where he is staying. The guide, of which 150,000 copies were printed, may also be seen on the Internet. It is being distributed at large events in São Paulo.
Another way of visiting the city is by metro – although the metro grid is still small when compared to the size of the city. On the metro site, there is a map of all the tourist points that are close to the stations.
But for those who want to ride the metro and, at the same time, learn about the history of the city, the correct program is Turismetrô. There are five different routes, all with bilingual guides and with artists enacting the history of the city. Sé station, the city’s central station, is the starting point of the routes.
During the events, the actors explain details about the history of the churches, avenues and also about the tourist points. The tour, which starts at 2 pm on Saturdays and at 9 am and 2 pm on Sundays, is free and costs just the price of the metro tickets.
Each group can include up to 25 people. To participate all you have to do is got to the Turismetrô ticket counter at Sé station at least 20 minutes beforehand. After that you choose one of the tours and buy the number of tickets necessary.
Much to Be Done
To Aline Del Manto, from São Paulo Tourism and a Tourism teacher at the Senac University Center, there are many interesting things taking place in the city and this may increase the tourism in the city and, consequently, in the outskirts, in the interior of the state and on the coast. On the other hand, there is much to be done. “Over the last five years, we have promoted a study of the obstacles that stint the growth of the city’s tourism,” she says.
One of them is the language barrier: few taxi drivers, shop salespeople and waiters, for example, speak English or Spanish. With taxi drivers, a special program was developed. The tourist guides, in turn, speak both languages.
“But we noticed that there is a demand for guides who speak third languages, like Chinese, Arabic and Russian. It would be interesting if we could attract people who speak Portuguese and one of these languages to take guide courses,” stated Aline.
Another project developed by São Paulo Turismo and mentioned by professor Aline is the training of São Paulo travel agents who were previously only interested in sending people from São Paulo abroad, but never in receiving tourists in the city. “We now develop this work with 40 agencies,” she explained.
Finally, the university students are also moving. In the Senac Tourism undergraduate course, the students have many lessons about São Paulo. Almost one whole term on the matter. “We make sure that when they leave, they know the city, so that they may be qualified to work as guides, as receptive agents,” explained Aline.
Taxi driver Ludovico Ciaramicoli, 60 years of age, has already lost count of the number of foreigners he has transported in his taxi over the 25 years he has been working in the city of São Paulo, the largest business center in South America.
Up to the beginning of last month he did not speak a word of English and was constantly frustrated because he could not generate fidelity among foreign passengers. But since he participated in a basic English course, his routine has changed and – better still, his revenues have risen.
“Taxi drivers are often the first contact the tourist has with the city, and as in the age-old adage: the first impression stays forever,” he states. “In the past, I would take the person to her hotel and could not tell him that I would be available to pick him up or take him on the outings he wanted,” he explained.
“The passengers have now noticed my desire to talk to them and end up preferring a driver who tries to speak their language. On the first day I noticed an increase of 15% in my revenues,” he celebrates.
Apart from that, Ludovico has even established a kind of partnership with Faap university, in São Paulo. “They always have students from other countries in their Foreign Relations course. Many times they have nobody to receive the person at the airport. Since I learnt how to speak basic English, they started trusting my work and I myself receive the foreigners,” he says.
“I have already even trained other taxi drivers so that they know how to receive the person and make him comfortable. São Paulo is receiving more foreign tourists, we need to be more prepared,” he teaches.
The English course that helped Ludovico in his work is part of a taxi driver training project developed by the São Paulo city hall, in partnership with the Union of Taxi Drivers and the Association of Taxi Driver Companies and Taxi Fleets in the City of São Paulo (Adetax).
“We have developed courses with specific characteristics for taxi drivers. The clues are very practical like, for example, asking where the passenger is coming from, where he would like to go and how much the ride was,” explained Adetax president Ricardo Auriemma.
The basic course takes 24 hours over three months – it is free and the groups include on average 40 students. “We have already taught English to 350 drivers and Spanish to 100,” celebrates Ricardo.
According to him, during the course they tell their most curious stories and explain the greatest difficulties they have in their daily life. “It is very gratifying when you notice the moment in which they can communicate with the tourist,” he explained.
Still in the training program, 22,000 taxi drivers received the “tourist kit”, which includes two education CDs. The first CD, recorded in eight languages – German, Japanese, Chinese, French, English, Spanish, Italian and Portuguese -, welcomes tourists.
“As soon as they enter my taxi, they are informed about the tourist points of the city, the number of cinemas, theaters, shopping centers, cultural centers and about the gastronomic diversity,” explained the president at the Adetax.
The second CD was produced to better inform taxi drivers. It contains information about the city, what is most important in the different regions, cultural routes, and entertainment clues, as well as providing information about how to approach the passenger, the different kinds of tourists who visit the city and how to win the passenger’s trust.
Clues that taxi driver Ludovico follows strictly. “The CD includes the expressions most used in each language, including good morning, good evening, good night, excuse me and thank-you,” he explained.
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