Brazilians may be wedded to their caipirinhas, but their government knows the lure of the national cocktail isn’t enough. Not even paired with skimpy bathing suits, soccer and favelas — long the country’s top publicity hooks for attracting visitors.
“We’re not going to promote those things any more. Now we’re going to highlight our natural resources, our cuisine, our history and heritage,” said Gilson Machado Neto, president of Embratur, the country’s tourism authority, during a recent visit to el Nuevo Herald.
The new strategy he outlined includes an open door for tourists, eliminating visa requirements for countries with the biggest potential for visitors and promoting Brazil’s natural marvels, including virgin landscapes ideal for ecological and adventure tourism.
The goal is to break past stagnant tourism, which has remained at just over 6 million visitors a year for the past decade. Not even soccer’s World Cup in 2014 made a difference.
In comparison, Florida received 35 million visitors in the first quarter of 2019.
The first step taken by the government of President Jair Bolsonaro was to eliminate the tourist visa requirement for the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan. The change took effect June 17, and visitors from those countries can now enter with only their passports.
A study by the Tourism Ministry showed the change led to a 53 percent increase in the number of reservations made by U.S. residents in June and a 97 percent increase in July, compared to the same periods last year.
The World Tourism Organization has estimated that Brazil could experience a 25 percent increase in annual tourist arrivals, which would add $1.4 billion to the country’s economy.
Machado Neto said Brazil also plans to cancel the tourist visa requirements for visitors from China and India. And he added that the government is studying the possibility of offering resident visas to U.S. retirees who want to live in Brazil and take advantage of its lower cost of living. U.S. tourists now receive 30-day visas.
“Within six months we will have a proposal for granting resident visas to U.S. citizens,” Machado Neto said.
He also highlighted the efforts by the Bolsonaro government to guarantee the country’s security.
“In these first five months of [Bolsonaro] government, crime dropped by 25 percent,” he said, adding that violent crimes in tourist areas dropped even more dramatically, by 56 percent.
For Machado Neto, the most important part of his work is to highlight Brazil’s unique biodiversity, with six distinctive ecosystems in the Amazon; the Atlantic forest; the Cerrado savannas in the country’s center; the semi-arid Caatinga area; the pampas it shares with neighboring countries and the wetlands of the Pantanal, home to the rare marsh deer, tapirs, capybaras and more than 1,000 bird species.
Brazil also boasts the Blue Amazon, a mild-climate maritime environment off its Atlantic coast with great marine diversity and energy resources spread across 800 islands.
The government is targeting sustainable tourism that maintains 84 percent of the country as undeveloped.
Machado Neto noted other less-known attractions, such as the São Francisco Valley wine region in the northeast; bird watching; horseback riding and scuba diving options in various regions; and São Paulo’s medical tourism facilities.
To bring greater attention to the country’s assets, Brazil’s tourism agency has enlisted celebrity ambassadors including Miamians Romero Britto, an artist, and mixed martial arts fighter Vitor Belfort; and Los Angeles-based filmmaker Frederico Lapenda. The ambassadors will use their social networks to distribute information about Brazilian attractions, working as volunteers to help their home country, Machado Neto said.
For investors, the government is also offering financial breaks to those who start businesses with 100 percent foreign capital.
Those business advantages dovetail with Bolsonaro’s emphasis on ending corruption.
“We are a country ravaged by corruption,” he said, pointing to Operation Carwash that revealed money laundering and political and corporate racketeering. While $11.9 billion was recovered, he said, that amounted to only 5 percent of what was stolen.