By Henry Montalto
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – The Louvre Museum, known as “the big glass pyramid”, has crushed Brazil in the number of tourists in 2018. While the French institution attracted 10.2 million visitors, the whole of Brazil welcomed a measly 6.62 million tourists.
This single museum had more tourists than a country with pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, incredible culture and yes, of course, Carnaval.
Unfortunately, all these great selling points are bogged down by the dark clouds hanging over Brazil and its government in recent years.
The Brazilian Ministry of Tourism has launched a bold new plan to double tourism–up to 12.5 million–by 2022. Many residents are asking themselves if it should be done or even can be done.
South and Central America reaped in the benefits of an exploding tourism market in recent years with an increase of 8.4 percent in 2018.
Ironically, this growth didn’t reflect the situation in Brazil, as the country’s tourism market only grew by 0.05 percent while Peru and Argentina were gaining over 7.0 percent.
Does Brazil’s tourism numbers dropoff have any correlations with its government? The answer is extremely complex but it is still “Yes”. These range from political turbulence under the Temer and Bolsonaro administrations, skyrocketing number of murders by police, transportation, corruption, and theft.
However, this does not mean Brazil cannot remain the most popular tourist destination in South America, second to only Mexico in all of Latin America. The issue is not the levels of tourism per se but the major factors for the growth of tourism in Brazil.
In March 2019, the Bolsonaro government waived the requirements for visas to enter Brazil from four countries–USA, Canada, Japan, and Australia–which do not give reciprocal treatment for Brazilians.
The latest data show this measure is helping as reservations for hotels and similar accommodations increased 85 percent for visitors from Canada and Australia, 50 percent from the USA and 150 percent from Japan during the first quarter of 2019.
Still more needs to be done to increase the confidence of tourists to travel to Brazil. The lack of investment in transportation and logistics is seen as a major problem by government officials.
For tourism to grow, roads, bridges, and airports need essential security and other improvements, and the country has neglected them for decades.
An evaluation by Andre Coelho, a specialist in the Getúlio Vargas Foundation said: “International tourism thrives on domestic tourism and a thriving economy,” two things we do not have: 61 percent of children in Brazil are in or close to poverty.
Unemployment in Brazil is at 12.7 percent and increasing, and the Brazilian currency is crashing as markets have lost faith in the Bolsonaro government.
The biggest question among the 209 million residents is: How can this government focus on tourism when half the country is suffering under corruption, natural disasters, and violence?
It’s a serious question asked daily by the neglected millions of this country who are at wit’s end with all of this.
Another specialist for the Center of Excellence in Tourism at the University of Brasília, Neio Lúcio de Oliveira Campos, said: “It’s not good for a tourist to arrive in Rio de Janeiro and then spend another five hours and US$600 for a flight to the Amazon.”
Professor Neio Lucio stated that everyday reality is a real problem for travelers in Brazil. Transportation is a logistical nightmare and to open air travel in Brazil, there must be better competition, more capital, and, of course, new and improved infrastructure.
One thing we cannot afford is another major airline bankruptcy or failure like Avianca Brasil.
After all, this is a country with some of the best beaches in the world, a culture that takes your breath away, passion, and romance galore; foods with a unique twist on other world cuisine; a party scene that keeps you dancing all night; and forests so vast and far-reaching as to humble you within seconds.
This is Brazil, filled with wonders and possibilities yet empty of solutions. A country that is falling behind, but not lost.
We count down the months or years waiting for the promised improvements that never come as resources continually fall into the pockets of the corrupt to be lost forever.