RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A stable currency, historic sites, warm weather year round, eco-tourism and unique gastronomy are the major reasons why many are visiting Brazil – and the numbers don’t lie.
The country registered 79,049,171 domestic arrivals at its airports in 2011, an increase of 15.8% from 2010. There were also 9,005,165 international arrivals, up 13.95% from the previous year.
These figures are the highest since Embratur, an entity linked to the Ministry of Tourism, began collecting data in 2000.
The number of foreign tourists rose from 5.2 million in 2010 to 5.4 million in 2011.
“Brazil is being visited, from end to end, by travelers in search of business and pleasure,” says Embratur President Flavio Dino de Castro e Costa. “The country is being discovered for its wide variety of offerings.”
Positive developments have also helped attract more tourists to numerous Brazilian cities, Castro e Costa says. He cites as an example the pacification of Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, the strengthening of São Paulo’s position as one of the main economic centers of the Americas, and the environmental policies to protect the Amazon and other biomes as elements that have made South America’s largest country attractive to tourists.
“There are a number of factors that, taken together, create an extremely favorable environment for raising awareness about Brazil,” Castro e Costa says.
The country’s annual festivities also have attracted more visitors. For the most recent New Year’s celebrations, Rio de Janeiro welcomed an estimated 710,000 tourists after 643,000 in 2010, according Rio’s Tourism Bureau (Riotur).
Nearly 100,000 more tourists for Carnival
A total of 850,000 tourists are expected – 25% of them foreigners – for this year’s Carnival, which takes place Feb. 18 – 22. Last year, the city received 756,000 visitors.
Domestic travel, Castro e Costa says, is the result of Brazil’s expanding economy, together with its strong currency and stable democracy, which has offered many Brazilians a way out of poverty and more purchasing power.
“Increasing numbers of Brazilians are acquiring the habit of traveling. Many are doing it for the first time, which is the case with members of the C class [Brazil’s lower middle class],” says Castro e Costa.
Those in the C class report monthly incomes between R$1,126 (US$662.35) and R$4,854 (US$2,855). In 2009 Brazil’s C class comprised more than half of the population (50.5%) for the first time in history: 94.9 million out of 184.4 million, according to findings by the FGV’s Center for Social Policy released in September.
The growth trends for C class became noticeable in 2003, when the group represented merely 37.5% of the population, says economist Marcelo Neri, who headed the study.
From 2003 to 2009, 29 million moved up a notch and made it to C class.
The study also revealed that C class holds 46.24% of Brazilians’ purchasing power, surpassing the higher-income A and B classes, which comprise 44.12%.
Ruth Reis, a 54-year-old secretary, is among these new Brazilian tourists. In April 2011, she took her first trip by plane, from Rio de Janeiro to Salvador in the state of Bahia.
Ruth and two friends bought the travel package on an installment plan.
“It was my first time in a plane and my first time in the Northeast Region. When I finish paying off the installments for that trip, I’m going to take another one,” says Reis, who is already making plans to visit other cities. “Recife is our dream. But if there’s a better offer for another city, that would work, too.”
Barometer for the World Cup
The current influx of tourists can be used to measure the country’s ability to handle the increased demand expected for the 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics, Castro e Costa says.
“Demand has been growing year after year, breaking successive records,” he adds. “It’s a practical test of what needs to be improved and what is already working well.”
This trend has directly impacted the country’s airports, which are used by almost 43% of Brazil’s foreign tourists, according to 2010 figures.
But the airports have been criticized for their lack of comfort and safety, delays and long lines at check-in counters.
“The airports are already a problem,” says Carlos Ebner, director of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Brazil. “There will also be other events prior to the World Cup that will test this fairly precarious infrastructure, such as this year’s Rio +20 and the World Youth Day in 2013.”
Ebner says investment has not kept pace with the growing demand and the situation has been getting worse for at least the past seven years.
Private sector airport concessions started on Feb. 6 at the Guarulhos and Viracopos terminals in the state of São Paulo, and at the Brasília terminal in the Federal District.
“The airports will receive investments and will be obligated to follow international standards,” Ebner says. “There will be set objectives, with deadlines to meet and a commitment to maintain the quality of the services.”
The global financial crisis, which did not affect the numbers of tourists coming to Brazil, caused visitors to spend less while traveling. From 2003 to 2008, the country registered a steady increase in earnings from international tourism, with a record high of US$5.785 billion in 2008, according to the Brazilian Central Bank. Yet, in 2009, after nearly a decade of growth, there was a drop in the influx of foreign capital (US$5.305 billion).
Brazil got back on pace in 2010, registering US$5.919 billion, and in 2011 it set another record, with US$6.775 billion.
“With the deepening of the crisis in Europe, the tendency is for the European tourists to be replaced by South Americans,” says Antônio Pedro Figueira de Mello, the municipal minister of tourism for Rio de Janeiro and president of Riotur.
The United States, Italy and Germany are among the five countries that send the most tourists to Brazil, according to Embratur.
But other South American countries have been quickly climbing the ranks. They account for 46% of all tourists arriving in Brazil, while Europe makes up 31% and North America accounts for 15%, according to the Study of International Tourism Demand in Brazil, published last October by Brazil’s FIPE Economic Research Foundation.