By Tim Anderson and Claudia Zambrana, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This year, it is estimated that around 1,000,000 tourists attended the annual celebration that has been going on for more than 350 years, up from last year’s estimate or 750,000. A large percentage of those tourists have always been visiting from the U.S., Europe, and Canada, bringing millions into the city’s economy.
Although many predicted that with the U.S. Dollar hovering around US$1.6 to the Brazilian Real (down from over US$2 two years ago) tourism would decrease significantly from previous years. While concise data is still hard to find, it appears as though 2011 Carnival business has been as strong as hoped.
The Business Monitor International (BMI) maintains that Brazil tourist arrivals rose from 4.7 million in 2001 to 7.2 million in 2008. According to USA Today/Associated Press, there was a decrease in tourism from outside Brazil in 2009 which accounted for a near 20 percent drop, perhaps more directly related to the global economic crisis then the weakened Dollar. However, despite the 2009 impact of the global financial crisis, recovery has been relatively quick, and the BMI forecasts tourist arrivals numbers to increase to 9.2 million by 2014, which is when Brazil hosts the World Cup.
It is clear that despite more conservative spending – foreigners are still attending this world-renowned celebration: many are just finding alternative ways to enjoy the experience. Alexander, a veteran Brazilian “couch surfer” (CouchSurfing.com) – an international network offering free hospice to other site members – states that this year he received over twelve people in his two-room apartment in Copacabana.
Alexander shares his apartment with two other Brazilian roommates and states that in the past, there have been up to eight different people staying at his apartment in a given night. “In my four years of being a couch-surfer host in Rio, this year (was) be the craziest … they all want to come regardless of the sleeping arrangements.”
Another way that has made it financially easier for both locals and foreign tourist to enjoy Rio’s Carnival is the huge increase in street blocos. Over 400 of these public (and free) block parties drew an estimated 3,000,000 people to the streets over the last two months.
Regardless, for the many who rely on Carnival tourism business, the strength of the local economy has meant that more and more Brazilians have been able to boost the numbers attending and spending. With the Brazilian economy expected to grow at close to 7 percent this year, more and more Brazilians are traveling to Rio.
Sam Flowers, owner of the American style diner, the Gringo Café, in Rio says that the demographic shift has signaled a change in approach for his business, “The proportional increase in Brazilian visitors definitely impacts business at the restaurant. We’re tailoring our marketing more towards Brazilians and with the menu, we emphasize the items they are more likely to recognize and enjoy like burgers, pasta and waffles.”
Despite concerns that international tourism is still recovering, Brazil maintains its high-ranking status as second most popular destination in Latin America. Rio hotels and restaurants have been able to fill their businesses this past high season and everyone from hotel owners to street vendors benefit from the influx tourism money.
“Carnival is Carnival,” said Cristiane Estrello, who travels from southern Brazil to be a part of Rio’s revelers. “There is no crisis in the world that can put out the flames of this party.”