By Lise Alves, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – Nearly two weeks after the death of Spanish tourist Maria Esperanza Jimenez in the Rocinha favela community, Brazil’s Tourism Ministry began to inspect tourism agencies, guides and carriers operating in the capital.
According to Nilo Sergio Felix, Rio’s Tourism Secretary, this week’s inspections were already on the government’s agenda, but due to recent events were moved up.
“Our state asked for the anticipation of the work in Rio de Janeiro because we understand that tourism is one of the fastest growing segments and that it needs continuous surveys for an excellent service for our visitors,” Felix told reporters on Monday.
According to officials the goal of the inspectors is to verify if hotels, tourism agencies, carriers and guides, operating in the city of Rio de Janeiro are following the country’s General Law of Tourism. Fines for irregularities will vary from R$1,186 to R$854,000.
Tamara Barros, supervisor of tourism service providers at the Ministry explained that the focus of inspectors will be on the guides. “Our goal is to create a network where qualification, investments, registration and supervision enter. We want tourism to grow in a safe way. In this way the tourist can take advantage, in each state and city, of the best each place can offer,” she told reporters.
For American-Brazilian Evan Farr, of the Jinga Experience adventure tourism company the new steps taken by authorities may help boost tourist interest in structured tours around the city.
“I believe that these new inspections will help tourists feel more comfortable when making decisions of choosing a tour guide or tour company. More importantly this will force tour guides and tour agencies to prioritize the safety of tourists, as well as receive the appropriate orientation by the Ministry of Tourism to make the necessary adjustments,” Farr says.
For others involved in tourism around Rio, the inspections are only part of what is needed to attract tourists to the Cidade Maravilhosa (Marvelous City).
“I think there will be added pressure on tourist guides and agencies to establish and demonstrate their credibility, but they will have to go beyond passing the government’s inspection to be competitive,” American expatriate in Rio and owner of Gringo Café, Sam Flowers tells The Rio Times.
“Just like in our case at Gringo, we pass health department and other inspections, but we have to impress customers in several more ways to actually attract them,” concludes Flowers.
As for rumors of a possible ban of favela tours, Secretary Felix discarded any discussion of prohibiting tourism in the communities due to increased violence in the areas.
“Tourists, especially foreigners, are curious about this tour. What we need is that, in addition to the legality of the providers of this type of service, the common sense of these professionals prevails when noticing any abnormalities in those locations,” he concluded.
The Gringo Café owner agrees, going further and saying that the majority of foreign visitors are not first-time travelers. “I think that people that visit Brazil are typically savvy travelers and they look out for their own well being by depending on personal references and peer reviews when choosing guides and other services,” concludes Flowers.