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How the World Cup might still support a sustainable tourism industry in Brazil

25 de June de 2013 | By | 3 Replies More

2013 Brazilian protests - Agencia Brasil

At the end of over a week of widespread demonstrations across Brazil and protests against the squandering of public money on the World Cup, rather than public services; I find myself wondering how tourism fits into all of this and how we who promote Brazil internationally are going to deal with the inevitable damage done to the image and reputation of the country.

In the beginning, Brazil’s hosting of the  World Cup in 2014 and 2 years later the Rio Olympics seemed like a heaven sent window of opportunity for promoting not just the normal tourist sites but also the natural beauty and pousadas of Brazil off the beaten track. But have either of these events actually had any positive effect at all on inbound tourism?  Certainly not yet. According to official government figures between 2005 and 2012 overall inbound tourism increased less than 1% (from 5,358,170 in 2005 to 5,676,843 in 2012 but tourism from North America and Europe actually dropped by some 15% during the same period- from 2,794,361 in 2005 to 2,368,788 in 2012.

So what’s going wrong then? Well firstly the expense of travelling to and within Brazil has been off putting to many, with Brazilians opting in droves to travel abroad with their overvalued Real and foreigners shunning Brazil for exactly the same reason. There is also the on-going perception that Brazil is a dangerous  country. However, an equally important problem seems to be a general lack of accurate, attractive and easily available information online in English and other  languages to independent travellers. This leaves even those who want to come to Brazil unsure about where to go, what to do and how to get around safely .

England v Brazil in Rio - Estádio do Maracanã

According to Embratur’s own reckoning over 70% of all travellers to Brazil are now independent travellers, and the figure may well be considerably higher than this. Buying patterns of these independent travellers have changed enormously over the last 8 years. Back then people read newspapers, looked at newspaper ads, bought package holidays from travel agencies and read guidebooks. These days these same people do all their research online, in their native language, cross referencing reviews of destinations and accommodation and then buying direct. There is also an increasing demand for accommodation in the smaller more authentic Brazilian pousada rather than impersonal hotels or large resorts which tourists can find anywhere.

The prevailing idea at the moment seems to be that the World Cup traveller will be going off in between games to sample the delights of off beat Brazil and local culture, and consequently a large amount of financing is being set aside to promote festivals happening during the event. I just can’t see this happening. These World Cup visitors are “eventeiros” as I like to call them or in other words people whose pure interest is in the event rather than the country where it is being held. The majority of these “eventeiros” will be coming on very expensive inclusive packages and won’t be doing much else in between games except staying where they are. Independent travellers might well be interested in sampling local culture but they will be equally likely be avoiding Brazil entirely whilst the World Cup is on, put off by the perceived expense of flights and accommodation. (This is what happened both during the South Africa World Cup and the UK Olympics last year.)

Corumbau, Bahia, Brazil

Brazil  has all the raw material  you could possibly want to become a major tourist destination for overseas as well as Brazilian travellers : thousands of beautiful sandy beaches, wonderful weather for the most part, great vibe, friendly people, mountains, historical cities, nature galore plus innumerable attractions for tourists and fabulous pousadas to stay at. But it is not the World Cup or Olympics “eventeiro” who needs to be targeted; it is the independent world traveller who expects everything online. And it is not the big hotels and resorts that need government support. It is the smaller pousadas, which are so essential to sustainable tourism outside big cities.

So how can this be done? A key initial strategy would logically be to court and support the professional Brazil blogger. Not those occasional bloggers who just write about their vacations in Brazil but those people who really know the country, who have huge online followings amongst independent travellers, and who can really influence perceptions in the travel world.

We have an immediate need to manage the image and reputation of Brazil in the wake of all the protests, but in the long term by realigning tourism efforts towards the needs of the independent traveller and using bloggers as one way of reaching them, a real and worthy World Cup legacy might conceivably be achieved. One of increasing tourist numbers all year round not just during the games and supporting a sustainable tourism industry throughout the whole of Brazil.

By Alison McGowan, Hidden Pousadas Brazil

For further information on Brazil Travel & Pousadas visit Hidden Pousadas Brazil


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  1. tony says:

    In all likelihood, those that can make a difference won’t be reading your lines, Alison. But it feels good to see someone spelling things out. Self-complacency is no longer an option. The entire focus being put on the promotion of Brazil as a tourism destination abroad needs to be reassessed. We are not even asking for a complete overhaul of the current policies (although that might be quite a start), even the smallest recognition of the vast importance for Brazil of the independent traveller would make a difference.
    In the meantime, those of us who have given it all to help bring more foreigners to Brazil are increasingly running out of steam. We can no longer battle it alone.

  2. Karen Trewin says:

    As an English person who travelled across Europe & Canada to follow Formula 1, and who had long wanted to visit Brazil – since the days of the legendary Ayrton Senna – I agree with so much of this article.

    When visiting the Grands Prix, all I focused on was the race venues, the trips were expensive and the excitement & anticipation was all about the sport so I wasted the chance to see many new places. I therefore agree that the football-fan visitors to Brazil will not make the most of their stay.
    In 2011 I at lasted planned and made a trip with my husband around some of Brazil. Planned independently and then arranged via an agent, it was superb. We visited the natural power & wonder of Iguassu, the wildlife, open country & rivers of the Pantanal, the peace of Boipeba near Salvador and the spectacle of Rio. Just a taster, a tiny part of what the country has to offer but such variety, warmth and beauty – yet most of the places we visited are virtually unknown in England.
    The dangerous reputation of Brazil’s cities was frequently mentioned before we visited, but in both Sao Paulo and Rio we felt safe – no different to other cities, London, Barcelona etc. But its easy for media and rumour to exaggerate somewhere far away.
    The biggest issue I think: money, the exchange rate impact on holiday cost is a big factor in choosing where to go – the world is big and beautiful, Brazil has a lot of competition!
    I do hope independent tourism does get support, we’d love to return, but hate the large cloned & anonymous resort hotels. Good luck!

  3. Denada says:

    Alison this article is a gem. Thank you!
    We at TourNative feel the same way and our mission aligns with what you are voicing.

    Experiential tourism enables travelers to have more meaningful and culturally rich experiences while supporting local entrepreneurship by helping locals generate income.

    Keep writing, spread the word – it resonates with a lot more people then you may think.

    Denada at ToruNative

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