Marcelo Pedroso, Director, International Markets, Embratur Brazilian Tourism Board
Go Brazil: but…
Marcelo Pedroso, the Director of International Markets for Embratur, the Brazilian Tourist Board responsible for turning couch potatoes into tourists, has one of the best jobs on the planet… motivating everyone to visit Brazil.
Who in their right mind does not have Brazil at the top of their “to do” list? Beautiful well-toned women, gorgeous guys with sexy voices… and for sports buffs, on the horizon… the FIFA World Cup (2014) and the Olympics (2016). Cannot wait until 2014? Not a problem! Click on this site http://www.braziltour.com/ and a myriad of events scheduled between now and then will fill the screen. Tourists heading to Brazil are likely to visit South America’s largest city, Sao Paulo, drive to one of the world’s most modernistic cities, Brasília, or tour one of South America’s most ecologically advanced cities, Curitiba.
Is there a problem?
Pedroso and his public relations handlers from the USA and Brazil are very busy crafting an image of a destination that is (will be?) sizzling hot. I have interviewed scores of senior-level tourism executives over the years, but Pedroso had more people checking facts in notebooks and online and cringing at questions that did not keep to their programmed list, than US politicians have handlers trying to protect them from making faux pas.
I have not been to Brazil, so I do not know what there is to protect. Even the most naïve visitor recognizes that destinations are a mixed bag of good and bad news. If there was a universal belief that all destinations looked like airbrushed travel and leisure photos, every airline seat would be filled (regardless of price), hotels would be running at 100 percent occupancy, and government advisories would be taken off the web.
Read any news source or travel column, and Brazil is boldly in your face, warts and all. When Seth Kugel and Nicholas Gill of New York Magazine (2011) covered this destination, they determined that, “It's still no paradise, though it comes as close as any complicated metropolis of 12 million inhabitants ever could.”
Brazil is an emerging destination and some industry leaders seem aware of the weaknesses with a clarity that does not come easily to government and elected officials. A look at the research provides insight as to the challenges the Brazilian luxury traveler faces.
Dixon (2009) calls attention to ecological issues that exist because of weak tourism policies. He also finds that the infrastructure needs improvement. Crime continues to be of concern to visitors. Although some research suggests that the issue is localized and if tourists stay within the foreigner approved zones, it is unlikely that headline-making incidents will occur. It is interesting to note, however, that according to the Brazilian Association of Bulletproof Manufacturers more than 7,000 vehicles were armored for civilian use in 2008, an increase from 1,782 a decade earlier. As of 2008, 120 companies were engaged in making armored vehicles, with Sao Paulo leading the country and the world in making and selling armored cars. The second largest market in Brazil for these cars is Rio.
The US Department of State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (OSAC) (2011) identifies “…crime to be a major concern in Brazil, especially in the larger cities.” OSAC (2011) also reports that, “Public transportation hubs, hotel sectors, and tourist areas are the locations with the highest crime rates.” According to travel.state.gov: “Brazil’s murder rate is more than four times higher than that of the United States, and rates for other crimes are similarly high. Brazil has seen a recent increase in reported cases of rape. Criminal convictions for crimes are rare.” Not surprisingly, foreign visitors are targeted, because they are less likely to file police reports and/or testify at criminal proceedings if/when the bad guys are picked-up by the police.
Although there are no known terrorist groups operating in Brazil, Rio’s favelas are a product of organized crime centered on narcotics trafficking. Brazil is the number two consumer of cocaine in the world, behind the US. Quicknapping is the currently popular form of kidnapping in this country. The victim is abducted for a short period of time in order to receive a quick payoff from the family, business, or the target's ATM card. Although most abductions are of Brazilian citizens, OSAC warns that foreigners are vulnerable to this type of crime.
It is suspected that the large crime industry is a result of inadequately funded law enforcement (i.e., staffing and basic equipment shortages) resulting in low morale within the agencies tasked with policing and the related facets of criminal justice.
Even with armored cards roaming the streets, and gangs trolling for wealthy tourists, Rio de Janeiro received 1.61 million foreign visitors in 2011, representing an increase of 120,000 travelers from 2009. Foreign visitor expenditures reached US$5.5 billion in 2011, a 16.08 percent increase over 2010. Most visitors arrive from Europe, particularly Portugal, Italy, Germany, France, and Spain. It is anticipated that by 2014, South American tourists will account for 40 percent of arrivals, Europe will account for 41 percent, and the US supplies approximately 13 percent of all visitors. In addition to leisure visitors, Brazil is an attractive destination for trade shows and international conventions, and over 275 events were held in 2010. All this activity earned it a position in the Top 10 of business/convention destinations by the International Congress and Convention Association.
Optimistic: make it private
Brazil presents many opportunities for investors and services that include engineering, architecture, and construction firms, as well as hotel chains, realtors, sports facilities providers, security and safety equipment providers, infrastructure related firms in general (i.e., water sanitation), as well as deals for private equity and venture capital investors. The estimated investment from Brazil through the Olympics will be in the area of US$92 billion. Rio alone is likely to invest in the area of US$50 billion. New planned facilities include: an aquatic sports stadium (US$40 million), an Olympic Park (US$200 million), an Olympic Village (US$450 million), a tennis Olympic Center (US$45 million), a rowing stadium (US$2 million to renew a facility from the Pan Am Games), and an area for beach volleyball at Copacabana Beach (US$7 million).
The French hotel group, Accor, has made a major commitment to the country and is adding 5,000 new rooms, which adds up to EURO 200 mn. In February 2012, Accor opened its 150th hotel in Brazil, the Novotel Porto Alegre Aeroporto. In 2011, Accor opened approximately 9 hotels in this country, representing 1,300 rooms. By 2015, the network is likely to include 250 Brazilian properties. The Ibiz budget brand is also expanding in Brazil with three local partners (Atrio, Souza Maria, and Martins Hotels) who are investing US$78 million. The Hotel Gloria is being renovated with a US$114 million investment and is projected to be open in time for the FIFA World Cup.
According to the Brazilian Tourist Reporter (2012), the country is prioritizing investment in airport infrastructure. In recent years, Brazil’s commercial airport administrator, Empresa Brasileira de Infraestrutura Aeroportuária (Infraero) implemented a US$2.44 bn program to upgrade the country’s airport infrastructure. Fueling the privatization program are the Israelis, French, and South Africans. The foreign owners have a 51 percent stake in airport development, with the Brazilian Infraero holding 49 percent. The Brazilian agency is also keeping the right of veto on future decisions made by the airport joint venture partners.
Rio is expanding its subway system. Originally opened in 1979, the system currently has 2 lines and 35 stations. The expansion is scheduled to be completed by 2016, in time for the Olympic Games. A bus rapid transit system is also under construction, and a gondola system will link the favelas with the rest of the city. This cost-effective transportation solution is part of the Growth Acceleration Plan initiated by Lula da Silva.
There is optimism for the continued growth of Brazilian tourism, and international carriers are currently increasing lift. Interest from carriers such as Emirates and Singapore Airlines suggest that the destination is seen as an increasingly important market for business and leisure from non-traditional but wealthy markets
On the bright side
The Brazilian government has the support of the IMF and the business community, and this is contributing to a stable and welcoming business climate. As one of the largest and most robust economies in the world, the country benefits from agricultural and mineral resources. Both onshore and offshore oil discoveries could make Brazil an oil giant and an even stronger magnet for investors and businesses over the long-term.
Know before you go
US citizens cannot visit Brazil without a visa, which is obtained from the Brazilian Embassy or Consulate nearest to residential locales. There are NO airport visas, and immigration authorities will not let US citizens into the country without a valid document. The US government will not provide entry assistance, unless the proper credentials are in hand. For travelers who have recently visited certain countries, including most other Latin American countries, there may be a requirement to present an inoculation card indicating a yellow fever inoculation. Without this document, the visitor may not be allowed to board the plane or enter the country. Check with the Brazilian Embassy for the most current information.
Medical care in the major cities is considered to be generally good, according to the US State Department; however, remote areas may not meet US standards. Travelers are advised to acquire adequate medical travel insurance, making certain that the insurance covers emergency medical care and evacuation from Brazil.
For visitors traveling by car, an Inter-American Driving Permit should be carried along with a valid US driver;s license. Road conditions can be excellent (i.e., state roads), while federal interstate roads may be poor due to inadequate maintenance. The US State Department warns that potholes may be so deep that high clearance vehicles are needed. Other challenges to drivers include: pedestrians, animals, heavy truck traffic, and poor driving skills from other drivers. Emergency roadside assistance may be available, but the primary language is Portuguese. There is very limited train travel and busses range from luxurious to mechanically unsound.
The US State Department recommends that US citizens sign up for the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) prior to departing for Brazil. This can be done online or through a nearby US embassy or consulate.
About Marcelo Pedroso
At 41, the current Director of International Markets of EMBRATUR (Brazilian Tourism Board) has coordinated the participation of the agency in the Expo Zaragoza, the Military Worldwide Games, the Expo Shanghai, the Brazilian House in Berlin, and the 2007 Pan American Games in Rio de Janeiro. Involved in tourism over 20 years, Pedroso started his tourism career offering advice to visitors at the Tourist Information Center. Over the decades, he has been the Coordinator of the Touristic Equipments Department, Secretary Assistant, Coordinator of the Department of Events, and Executive Director.
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