RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Here comes the Águas de Março (Waters of March, or March Rains), and the summer stretch is coming to an end. Daylight Savings Time in Brazil already happened on February 16th, and in the Northern Hemisphere it will be March 10th, making it just a one hour time difference with New York (EST).
The early Carnival seems to have had an effect on business, both a slightly lower turn-out of foreign tourists, as well as a second wave of tourism later in the month.
It is speculated that lower international Carnival numbers were made up by Brazilian travelers, but as business owners in Rio know, Brazilian and foreign tourists have different spending profiles.
In general Brazilians do not spend as much, often finding accommodations with family or friends, as well as spending less in restaurants and bars. On the flip side, culturally, it is refreshing to see more travelers from across Brazil mixing it up in Rio.
The lower foreign tourism is being attributed to the high cost of living and travel here, which can pose a problem for the industry. The government just announced plans to limit hotel prices as happened for last year’s Rio+20, in anticipation of the 2013 Confederations Cup and Catholic World Youth Day.
Of course 2014 will see the FIFA World Cup and in then the 2016 Olympic Games will be held in Rio. City officials and developers are working to create more accommodations to meet demand, with prices in-line with the level of service expected by international travelers.
Tourism is already an important part of the economy, in 2011 Brazil welcomed more than 5.4 million tourists into the country, resulting in US$6.4 billion in foreign exchange inflows. Rio received about 850,000 tourists for Carnival, bringing more than R$1.1 billion into the state economy, and providing about 250,000 jobs.
Beyond the high cost of travel here, the city is also working to improve the English language proficiency within the tourism industry. While most agree anyone spending significant time in Brazil should learn Portuguese, it is not realistic for the ten-day vacationers.
Luckily Cariocas are renowned for their warm disposition, and willingness to help wayward gringos. Plus in hotels and high-end restaurants there is usually someone who can speak English, and most visitors find some fun in navigating the language (although doing business is a different story).
As far as “Águas de Março”, it is a very famous Brazilian song composed by Antonio Carlos (Tom) Jobim, first recorded in 1972 and perhaps most famously sung by Elis Regina, in 1974. The inspiration comes from Rio’s rainiest month, sudden storms with heavy rains and strong winds that cause flooding around the city.