April 23, 2024

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

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 .

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.)

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.