By Jay Forte, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – With the help of the Olympic and Paralympic Games and a stronger U.S. dollar, Brazil increased the number of foreign tourist entering the country to a record number of 6.6 million international visitors in 2016, according to figures released by the Ministry of Tourism.
The record represents an increase of 4.8 percent over 2015, the equivalent of about 300,000 more foreign visitors. In total, foreign tourist injected US$6.2 billion into the national economy, the equivalent to more than R$21 billion. The amount is 6.2 percent higher than the US$5.84 billion spent in 2015.
Despite the record volume of foreign tourists in the 2016 Olympic year, Brazil is still far from the main tourist destinations in the world. For example, Brazil does not receive even ten percent of the volume of tourists from France, leader in the ranking of the World Tourism Organization, which in 2015 received 84.5 million visitors.
According to a report by Brazilian news outlet G1, Brazil leads in number of foreign visitors in South America, but followed closely by Argentina, which in 2015 received 5.7 million tourists, according to the World Tourism Organization. In that year, Chile received 4.4 million and, Peru, 3.2 million visitors from other countries.
Tourism Minister Marx Beltrão said said, “I’m not satisfied with the number. I am working for Brazil to receive more tourists,” adding that by 2017, the target is to increase the number of foreign tourists by at least five percent. In order to fulfill the goal, the minister defended the simplification of the process of granting visas and the opening of foreign capital to airlines.
“It is time for Brazil to facilitate the visa issue for the [tourists of] the United States, Canada and Australia, for example. There is no reason to disrupt the arrival of these tourists to Brazil. North American tourists are going to Argentina because they do not need a visa,” he said.
In regard to the growth in 2016 and beyond, Beltrão said, “The numbers are extremely positive. If compared with the international context, they show that we can still make much progress, but we have been able to take advantage of the mega-events we have held.”
England, the last country to host the Olympic and Paralympic Games mega-events, grew by 0.92 percent from 2011 to 2012. In following years, the average increase was five percent a year. “We still have a lot to do to efficiently take advantage of the Games’ legacy,” said the minister.
Another factor certainly helping draw foreign tourism is the stronger U.S. dollar to the Brazilian real, as in 2010 real (BRL) had soared to an annual exchange rate of R$1.66/US$1. While in 2015 the exchange was at its lowest for the real in ten years, in 2016 it held near R$3.50-3.30/US$1.
American expatriate in Rio, Roshni Thakker, who is the guest relations director at boutique travel and tour agency XperienceRio, feels the biggest thing Brazil can do to increase tourism is to improve the sense of security. Especially in Rio de Janeiro where her top goal would be to “change the image of Rio as being dangerous, in the media and on the internet.”
She also feels that more and more people are drawn to travel that connects them to nature. “I just got back from Chapada Diamantina, and the place really transforms you. I know myself I want to travel and visit all that Brazil has to offer like the other chapadas, Fernando de Noronha, Bonito, etc. I think more can be done to promote these other locations in Brazil.”
For Nohelia Sanchez, co-founder of travel and tourism agency RdJ4U, “The country is used to organically receiving travelers because of its natural wonders, but the world has become more competitive and the travelers more demanding. From my point of view, training the local tour operators is very important to succeed.”
Adding, the biggest area to improve tourism in Rio is that, “Quality and customer service. Cariocas are very kind and lovable people, but when a customer pays for a service, being nice is not enough.”
According to the ministry, half of the foreigners who landed in Brazil have leisure as their main reason for travel, stay in hotels, flats or inns and travel as family or couple. Forty percent of tourists use the internet as their primary source of information.