As a big, beautiful country offering everything from sun and sand to adventure and wildlife – not to mention notoriously lively nightlife – there exists a feeling that Brazil underperforms as a tourism destination.
An estimated 6.6 million tourists visit Brazil a year, generating roughly $7m in revenue. Compare this with the nearly 83 million travellers who visited France in 2016, 76 million for the US and 35 million for Mexico.
A few factors could be attributed to Brazil so badly punching below its weight as a tourism destination: restrictive immigration procedures, outdated accommodation, inadequate infrastructure, and not enough international marketing. Fears about crime also do their damage.
Tourism officials in the country are trying to address these shortcomings one by one, having had to start with the basic goal of making both domestic policymakers and international visitors and investors aware of the country’s vast untapped potential in this sector. Brazil’s hosting of the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics helped make the point.
“The legacy of the cycle of large events that Brazil hosted [recently] was to create a higher consciousness of our potential in tourism,” says Vinícius Lummertz, president of the Brazilian tourism board, Embratur.
It is in the lingering afterglow of these two major international events – a time when its economy is also showing signs of recovery – that Brazil needs to maximise its potential while it can.
Visiting Brazil in April 2017, secretary-general of the UN World Tourism Organization Taleb Rifai said that now is Brazil's time for tourism and urged the country to make the most of its moment in the sun. He praised a package of measures introduced by the government to improve Brazil’s tourism offer, called 'Brasil + Turismo', and said its launch is proof that Brazil is taking tourism seriously.
“We already get a lot of FDI in general but we need more in tourism, and to do that we need to improve the investment environment. We also need reforms in tourism and to open up the market more,” says Mr Lummertz. “We need to internationalise our tourism sector like we did so effectively with agribusiness before.”
Powering up Brazil
A bill working its way through Congress will position Brazil as a “powerhouse” in tourism, says Mr Lummertz. The bill will change 120 articles of the national tourism law in an effort to modernise the sector, reduce red tape and improve its attractiveness for investors. One hundred percent foreign ownership will be allowed in Brazilian airlines (currently it is capped at 20%), and taxes will be reduced on theme parks, among other changes. Gambling – now banned – could be legalised, allowing for the development of integrated casino resorts.
These revisions would add to recent measures already made, such as in Brazil's visa regime. Electronic visas are now available for Australian, Canadian, Japanese and US citizens. Ten new visa centres have been opened in China and there is talk of eventually offering e-visas there as well. “In the past two years we have put through a lot of measures to make tourism a growth area for our country and to bring in more FDI,” says congressman Paulo Azi.
Such efforts are all in aid of a goal to double annual visitor numbers to 12 million – and nearly treble tourism revenues – by 2022.