Brazil Wishes to Double Number of Foreign Tourists It Gets. But This Will Be a Tough Sell

    Xingu river, in the Brazilian Amazon - Photo: Paulino Menezes

    Brazil, South America’s largest nation, has many natural and cultural treasures that are popular among foreign visitors.

    The country is home to the largest rainforest on Earth. It has sandy beaches and beautiful flat-topped mountains. The dance and music of samba was developed there. And the country has many towns built by the Portuguese during colonial times.

    But, Brazil has a tourism problem. The Ministry of Tourism says only 6.6 million foreigners visited Brazil last year. That is about half the number that go to the small, island state of Singapore.

    Vinicius Lummertz is the president of Brazil’s tourism board, Embratur. He says, “The highest gap between potential in tourism in the world and what’s been realized so far is in Brazil.”

    The government is now proposing measures aimed at nearly doubling the number of foreign visitors to Brazil in the next five years. The government plan includes a law to permit 100 percent foreign ownership of airlines. The goal is to increase the number of flight routes and lower the cost of travel.

    The government also will permit citizens of the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia to apply for visas online, instead of at a consulate, or diplomatic office. The government hopes less costly air travel and an easier visa process will deal with some criticisms about Brazil from tourists.

    But some tourism professionals say the government does not yet have a clear plan to persuade people to come to Brazil. They add that Brazil is not doing a good job reaching modern global travelers who research trips and make reservations online.

    Government officials hope to double their investment in tourism promotion efforts. Last year, the tourism board had a US$ 16 million budget. The agency said that was much less than the amounts spent by other South American countries.

    Lummertz says the government’s plan will help promote Brazil to other countries. But he adds that the nation is still struggling to overcome many years of isolation. He says Brazil remains one of the most closed economies among large developing nations.

    Those issues also have affected tourism. For example, high import taxes make the country costly for travelers to visit. The taxes also reduce the quality of goods and services available.

    Brazil has other problems, too. It has one of the highest murder rates in the world. And the disease Zika which is carried by mosquitos and has been linked to birth defects is also a risk.

    But Brazilian business owners say these issues must be put in context.

    Emmanuel Rengade is a hotel owner. He says tourists are not likely to visit areas where most of the crime happens. He also points out that the number of Zika cases this year has fallen. The government recently said the Zika emergency had ended.

    And, they say, discussions about Brazil’s problems ignore the one thing tourists like best about Brazil.

    Surveys show that tourists love the people, who are known for being carefree and welcoming. Pauline Frommer is another tourism professional. She says that “anybody who goes to Brazil comes back loving it.”

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