Tourism in Brazil: challenges and opportunities podcast

Brazil is a complex and diverse country that, every year, attracts more than 6 million tourists from all over the world. Leisure tourism, which focuses on the sun and beach segment of the market, along with eco-tourism in the Amazon rainforest region, and cultural and historical tourism throughout the country remain prominent parts of Brazil's tourism industry. Despite these natural and cultural resources, many critical issues have hindered the development of tourism in the country.

Join our co-host Daniel Ridge as he speaks with Gui Lohmann, Mariana de Freitas Coelho and Veronica Feder Mayer, who have co-authored, along with nearly 20 other contributors, an important article titled ‘Tourism in Brazil: From politics, social inequality, corruption and violence towards the 2030 Brazilian agenda’. The article provides an overview of Brazil as a tourism destination and outlines the challenges that the industry faces.

Speaker profile(s)

Dr Gui Lohmann is Professor in Air Transport and Tourism Management at Griffith University (Australia). He has authored several books, including "Tourism theories: concepts, models and systems" published by CAB International and co-edited the book "Tourism in Brazil: environment, management and segments" published by Routledge. He has worked as a consultant for the Brazilian Ministry of Tourism, the World Tourism Organization and the United Nations Environmental Program, in addition to providing consulting to Adelaide Airport, Brisbane Airport Corporation and Queensland Airport Ltd. Gui is the founder and previous executive director of ABRATUR, the International Academy for the Development of Tourism Research in Brazil.

Verônica Feder Mayer is an Associate Professor at the School of Tourism and Hospitality, Fluminense Federal University, Brazil. She holds a PhD in Business from the COPPEAD Graduate School of Business of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. Her research interests are marketing and consumer behaviour, behavioural economics and well-being in tourism.

Mariana de Freitas Coelho is a Marketing Professor at the Federal University of Viçosa (Brazil). She received the PhD in Business from the Federal University of Minas Gerais. Dr Coelho coordinates Mercademia, a Business Management Research Group. Her research expertise include consumer experience, destination marketing and tourist behaviour.

In this episode:

  • What is the Academy for the Development of Tourism Research in Brazil (ABRATUR)?
  • How do leisure and business tourism fit into one of the largest economies in the world?
  • What does Brazil have to offer other than the stereotypical “Four S’s: Sun, Sex, Soccer, and Samba”?
  • What are some of the structural issues that Brazil faces in terms of supporting the tourist industry?
  • How does the development of the tourism industry benefit the future of Brazil itself?

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Tourism in Brazil: challenges and opportunities

Daniel Ridge: Brazil is a complex and diverse country that, every year, attracts more than 6 million tourists from all over the world. Leisure tourism, which focuses on the sun and beach segment of the market, along with eco-tourism in the Amazon rainforest region, and cultural and historical tourism throughout the country remain prominent parts of Brazil's tourism industry. Despite these natural and cultural resources, many critical issues have hindered the development of tourism in the country. In today's episode, I'm speaking with: Gui Lohmann, Mariana de Freitas Coelho and Veronica Feder Mayer, who have co-authored, along with nearly 20 other contributors, an important article titled ‘Tourism in Brazil: From politics, social inequality, corruption and violence towards the 2030 Brazilian agenda’. The article provides an overview of Brazil as a tourism destination and outlines the challenges that the industry faces.

I think it'd be helpful for our listeners, if, Gui, maybe you could begin by giving a brief introduction to the article before we dive into it. I'm wondering what you are seeking to convey and bringing together so many researchers?

Gui Lohmann: Well, I don't know that I can speak on behalf of the other 20+ authors. But I think, in many aspects, there is a combination of a sense of frustration. A sense of frustration, because, with all the potential that the country has in terms of the territory, in terms of the beauties, the geographical variety of landscape, and fauna and flora, the very long coast, and the fact that it’s a very big country from an economic point of view, Brazil is still struggling to maintain—and attract, not just to maintain, but to attract more than, you know, 6 ½,  7 million international tourists every year. And what we're trying to do is, rather than writing another typical journal article, where we would be looking at one particular point, one particular segment, one particular market, one particular problem, we decided to bring together the collective voice of experts from Tourism Brazil, to try to put together: what are the issues? What are the structural problems that we had, that some of them were related to tourism, and others were also related to the country in itself? And tourism was (illegible), the price for, you know, things like corruption, inequality, violence, and so forth, that in many aspects (illegible) the opportunities for Brazil to be a more appealing destination.

DR: So, I imagine you brought in these different experience researchers to give their point of view, how did it work bringing the article together with so many people?

GL: Well, it was very interesting, because we had to accommodate in many aspects, even the political views of, you know, some of our colleagues, some of the philosophical perspectives, and so forth. What we clearly managed to do, which I think was quite exciting, is that we have philosophers, we have managers, we have people with an economic background, like Veronica (who is here with us today), we have an expert in marketing, like Mariana (that is also here in this podcast). So, what we managed to do is bring some of the views and perspectives that typically we wouldn't have, you know. When we talk about social inequality, when we talk about violence against women, for example, when we talk about some of the aspects in gender studies and minorities, it was very good to have colleagues that had that expertise, and they were actually part from this background. So as a leading author, I really enjoyed working with them. I know that it was not easy for them because we had to accommodate different viewpoints. But at the same time, I think having 20+ authors, which is very rare in a tourism paper, also brought a lot of different colours in the insights.

DR: Yeah, well, most of these authors are members of the International Academy for the Development of Tourism Research in Brazil. Can you tell me a little bit about the Academy?

GL: Yeah, sure. I can start and I would love to bring in Veronica, who is the current vice president, at some point. The Academy started about 10 years ago. In fact, we are celebrating this year, 2021, our 10th anniversary. I came back from a conference in Brazil, and on the way, on the plane back to Australia, I got this sense of frustration that it was very obvious there was a divide from the—let me put it in this way— the founding academics of tourism research in Brazil. And they did an amazing job in so many ways. But one of the things that were lacking were a better way to connect the research that they were doing with the broader international literature, with the academics from other institutions and so forth. And at the same time, I also realized that a lot of the younger academics that, they were in their early 30s, at that stage, they were also not having a voice that they need. And that's when we start a conversation, say, ‘How we can support each other to publish more internationally, for us to learn more about what is happening overseas, that we can bring into our studies? But also, how can we give a voice of what is happening in Brazil, to an international audience?’ And this paper, for example. It's one example. I mean, there were other things that we did. We also edited a book, the first book about tourism in Brazil written in English. But there's been a number of other publications, which I'm actually also involved with Veronica and Mariana. But I would love to hear from Veronica's perspective, because she's the current vice president of ABRATUR.

Veronica Feder Mayer: Well, ABRATUR is very interesting group of researchers, we all try to contribute to internationalize the tourism research in Brazil. In a certain way, tourism in Brazil was researched in a very local point of view. We have a lot of tourism, for example, tourism journals, they are local. But we have, for a very long time, this difficulty in sending our voice and sending our research to other parts of the world where we have this barrier language, because we all speak Portuguese and our main you, you know, works were made for a long time in Portuguese. So, we really need now more—more and more—to give more view to our research in other countries.

DR: Well, I hope this podcast is a step in that direction of reaching a larger audience. That was one of the reasons that I wanted to do this, because I saw this, you know, this article about Brazil, which is very particular and then also the Portuguese language. So, I think it's great that we're reaching out to a larger community in English and discussing these things. I'd like to bring Mariana into the conversation. The article begins by discussing popular conceptions about Brazil and various stereotypes. Can you paint a picture of how Brazil is conceived externally and describe to us how leisure and business tourism fit into one of the largest economies in the world?

Mariana de Freitas Coelho: So, yes. Hi, Daniel, of course. I think to answer you, I first have to talk about Brazilian history a little bit. We were a country with Indians at first. And then we have Portuguese people that come to Brazil around [1500]. And they say they discovered Brazil. And after they ‘discovered’ Brazil, they started bringing in slaves from Africa, because our Indians weren't always very Pacific, and they started going inland. So nowadays, we still have indigenous spaces, which is—some part of these people went to the Amazon, for example. And others are just part of our heritage, you know, in our culture as well. But we do have a lot of Europeans that mix into our people. And we have a very diverse culture that still goes on, in gastronomy, in our words, in our language, in our, you know, costumes and everything. So, this is part of what Brazil is. It is a diverse country with diverse people, and many, many traditional cultures. But part of how people see us, I would say, evokes at least Four S, which are Sun, Sex, Soccer, and Samba.

DR: Yeah. Okay.

MFC: Yes. If you go through just a random conversation with a foreigner, normally, these are the things these people bring to us and want to talk about. And this is good, partially, but it's also an incomplete view of what we have, right? Because we do have a lot of potential, but only have potential, for tourism. Tourism is not enough, you know. So, what we have to do, and we try to do a little bit with this paper, is saying that, ‘Oh, we do have a lot more if we are not only Rio and Amazon, for example. But we have to plan internally, so that especially foreigner tourism see other products that we have. For example, we have Falls de Iguazú at south of Brazil, which is just near Argentina, and Paraguay, and we have the Cataratas, which is very particular, very special. And it is a place that is ready to receive foreigners, for example. We also have Florianópolis in the south of Brazil, we have all the coasts up to the northeast. So, there is a lot more to see. But people normally don't know all these aspects, because we fail as a country to promote Brazil properly, you know. That's the main point, because even with the World Cup and the Olympic Games, we still don't reach over 6,600,000 tourists that come to Brazil per year. So mainly, who comes here are people from Argentina, which is almost one million and a half. Then we have people from the United States, also people from Uruguay and then Germany and Italy. And a problem that we have, that, part of these people come looking for the wrong things, for example, sex tourism, because of the image that they have of Brazil, or only want to know Rio and have others, which is okay. Some people are interested in that. But that's a very small part of what we have. And it's kind of exploitation of our poverty.

DR: Yeah, it does seem exploitive in a lot of ways. I'd like to, actually, to go back to Veronica, if we could for a minute. I think an important part of your article discusses structural issues that hinder tourism development, such as social inequality, corruption, and violence. Can you tell us how these issues affect the tourist industry?

VFM: Well, Daniel, I think we have a lot of structural issues that really hinder the tourism in Brazil. As we said, it is really frustrating. You know, travel and tourism represent about 8% of Brazil's GDP. It’s really low, you know. And we have, as Mariana said, this very complex and very rich culture. And we have a lot of influence, good, nice influence, astronomy and an amazing territory. It's, you know, the fifth largest territorial area in the world. So, we have a lot of potential to attract different tourism segments. But it's frustrating because at the same time, we have significant territorial and economic inequalities, we have a lot of historical challenges still to overcome, and social inequalities, and corruptions. They come, you know, they go on hand on hand. It's a country of profound divisions in terms of class and power. We have a high concentration of income and wealth. And of course, corruption contributes to more inequality, increases violence, drains resources from investments in strategic areas, such as health, education, and, of course, from tourism. And also, Brazil has a systematic violence problem. And particularly in its largest capitals, you know, and where we have some of our major tourism destinations, like Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo and other capitals. And I would say that, sadly, you used to have a lot of machismo, homophobia, and racists in Brazil. It persists in Brazil. It's really sad. For instance, Brazil is the second most dangerous country in the world for women to travel alone.

DR: Oh, I didn't know that.

VFM: It's really, really sad. But you know, we have some other structural issues, you know, I would like to mention. You know, international tourism is very low in Brazil, really very low, and never reaches 7 million international arrivals. And we have some structural factors, like distance from the main markets. We have this huge language barrier because we speak Portuguese, and more than 90% of our population speaks only Portuguese. Even Spanish is not taught regularly in our schools. This really affect the country's competitiveness, and also our Latin American neighbourhoods. For instance, Argentina, that Mari has just mentioned, is responsible for a relevant share of our international arrivals, but now it's experiencing major economic difficulties. So, we are in a difficult position here, within America. And I would like to make sure also that we have low incentives to start new businesses, not only tourism, but in Brazil, they have still high interest rates. We have a lot of uncertainty in terms of politics, our economy is— not only now, but it's for a long time now— with a lot of uncertainty. We have also legal uncertainty to entrepreneurs. So, I think that our business environment really needs to be improved also, and fostering its apprenticeship, innovation, you know.

DR: Well, you've had, in the last decade, significant sporting events. You had the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and then the 2016 Olympics, which are major worldwide events. How are these events used to diversify the traditional image of Brazil, and were they successful?

MFC: So, I think these huge events were good for knowledge, it was partially successful. So especially the World Cup, it was a way of showing more than only Rio and the Southwest, because the stadiums were all around Brazil, people could see other places, which were not the main places which are in media. And also, because people when they come, they tend to—maybe in long term, to recommend Brazil again, and come another time with relatives or friends, you know. Because once they've been here, they see, ‘Oh, it's not all they're talking in the media’, or ‘It's different from what I have imagined’. Maybe this helps us in attracting more tourists. But in short term, it didn't really help. And we have another problem, because we know that part of these equipment that were constructed, for example, the stadiums and the (illegible) places that they had to construct in Rio, so they didn't really work for staying for the population, you know, being something that we use on a daily basis for leisure activities. But we do have good things, which are the museum in Rio de Janeiro, more hotels, more investment that come and arrive to Brazil. So, it's not only bad things. They were partially successful. We are probably going to see the results for the emerging Brazil and the issues that we have in long term. But what we can't do is continuing doing events and other tourism activities that don't consider our issues and the population and don't think in the long term, because this is what we have to change for other opportunities that we have.

DR: Well, the politics, policy, and planning around tourism in Brazil seems to be pretty complicated. Veronica, can you tell us about some of the initiatives and policies that have developed over the years?

VFM: Yes, sure. You know, in Brazil, we have a history of poor tourism planning, or planning at all, and lack of continuity on government programs. But, you know, the Tourism Regionalization Program, it was adopted, I think, in 2014, had an innovative approach, you know, development of tourism regions was a focus of this program. And the program established regional governance and started to identify new tourism destinations and also new segments of tourism. And this point, it was very interesting. But at the same time, it was very good to increase the quality of some tourism products, and to promote some places, and some regions like the grape and wine region at Serra Gaúcha in the south of Brazil. But this strategy had a major impact on the domestic market but failed to increase the number of international visitors. So, as I told you before, we have really this difficulty to attract and maintain the international arrivals. And another initiative that I think was the nation's is the policy to support events and business tourism. We had strong participation of the private sector and conventions and Visitor's Bureau was developing Brazil, we have a lot of them now, the active working in Brazil. And as a result, before the pandemic, of course, Brazil became the most popular destination for corporate events, congresses in Latin America. And (illegible) really started to flourish, and represented about 5% of GDP with about 25 million for more jobs. But now with the pandemics, we really don't know where this is going, you know. And more recently, I think that some strategies were interesting, like investing in the infrastructure of the major sporting events like Mari said. And some of this infrastructure are now in the cities, Rio de Janeiro was really remodelled. We have a very beautiful new area, a new central area with new museums, and everything really helped a lot. But it still needs to be taken care of, especially now, when we see the effects of the pandemic. Also, the government eliminated the visa requirements for some international markets. I think these are some progress, but we are still far from what we can really do. And I would say, Daniel, we have a major problem with tourism data. Tourism is not recognized in the national accounts systems, you know, so we do not measure tourism regularly. We do not measure tourism along with other national and state statistics. So, we really have this problem in the decision-making process, you know, both in the public and the private sectors.

DR: Well, you mentioned infrastructure and the role that plays I know that air travel is really important in Brazil. And I know Gui had had a point about this and I’m wondering, Gui, what role has the development of airlines and airports in Brazil played in bringing tourists into the country?

GL: Yeah absolutely. And we don't want to give this like a grey image that everything is bad, you know, that probably we gave in the early stages of this podcast, and even from the paper as well. Clearly, we've made some progress. And we encourage all the listeners to read the paper, as we describe there. The situation has changed significantly from part of an internal arrangement where airports were still owned by the federal government. So, we finally, in the last 10 years, managed with some success to privatize the airports. They are personnel operated by a consortium of different companies that in their majority include airport operators from overseas with a lot of experience in managing airports from a more commercial point of view. And that more commercial point of view helps in so many different ways. You know, just to give an example, how you attract international travellers may also depend on the specific marketing that you put forward to certain countries and so forth. But we also had a significant problem with the infrastructure. We had airports there were invested partly because of the events that we just mentioned about. We have to overcome some difficulties with how we coordinate the planning of the network. I'll give a very, like a classic example in Brazil, the northeast of the country is not far away. It's about six, seven hours from Florida or from some of the European cities. In the past, a lot of international travellers because of the network, they will be flying down to Rio, you know, which is probably three hours by plane to the northeast region. So, the total travel time for the European and part of the North America market trying to go to the northeast, it will just take a lot longer because we didn't have direct access to some of the airports in the north. So, it took some effort to coordinate, you know, that axis and actually negotiate which state would then be the gateway for international travellers to the country. So, part of the challenges is planning as was mentioned before, and that coordination of a very large country and ultimately picking winners for the benefit of the whole regional but also national tourism in attracting international visitors.

DR: Well, one aspect of the article that I think is interesting is that it gives a sort of historical trajectory of tourism in Brazil between 2000 and 2019. I'm wondering, what are some of the main features of your recommendations for the 2030 Tourism Agenda that you put forward in the article?

VFM: We divided our recommendations into main, you know, categories, and divided in public policies and also in technical aspects, more specific ones. In terms of public policies, we know that tourism policies must integrate with our high-level policies, you know, we need a better country, we don't need only better tourism. So, we need more, better education, we need environmental policies, you know, working fine, we need truck transportation, we need a lot of planning that will, in a way, benefit the tourism also. And we talked about corruption, we talked about, here, social inequality. So, we need now—We are recommending that the country adopts key mechanisms to combat corruption, you know, to prevent, to detect, to investigate, to correct. This is really important, because we are poor countries, too. So, we need all the resources we can have, good investments in our people, in our country, in our structure. Also, because of the environment of the business environment, we need to reduce, and we need to simplify the taxation. We need policy also in environmental conservation, we need to foster social equality, of course, as Gui said, to improve the country's air and sea transport.

DR: Yeah, I think that's interesting. Kind of leads me to the last question I wanted to ask you, is that how do you think tourism itself, the development of tourism, can benefit the future of Brazil itself?

GL: It's one of the challenges to realize that the successful tourism is actually a combination of several successes in different areas. Now we talk about public policy, we're talking about management, we talk about planning, we're talking about an environmental policy, safety, security, and so forth, right? So, it's hard to separate out, this is a tourism policy. You know, at the end of the day, the tourism will benefit when a lot of the other portfolios also benefit. So, it's very, very important that we keep this in mind, I see that we have this structure, the fundamental of a society that is in many aspects well integrated. The country, despite all the challenges, is a very hospitable country, it's a country that, again, despite the violence that we see in some of the outskirts of the larger capital cities, the Brazilians, there is not really a lot of internal wars and so forth. We are also one of the rare cases in the whole world where nationalities from all over the world have, have they integrated so well. We have still have an amazing, large territory with a lot, you know. The Amazon, the beach resorts that I've mentioned earlier on, you know, the urban cities and the rural parts, and, and so forth. So, I think we have a brilliant opportunity to lead tourism to the future, believing that in a sustainable way, lead in a vision that is really—will create less harm for the future. At the same time, we have so many fundamental structural problems that they have to be addressed, that we can be successful. I do hope that we have a change in the future. It's a bit… not very positive with the current federal government and some of the policies that they are reverting the progress of the last 15–20 years. It's unfortunate. I don't think the current situation of COVID in the country has also favoured the image of Brazil overseas. But I think fundamentally, we have the right things to do well, if we decided that we need to look after our people first so we can look after those that would like to visit us.

DR: That's great. Well, thank you, all three of you. Thank you so much for joining me today. I really had a good conversation. It's really interesting.

VFM: Thank you, Daniel

MFC: Thank you, Daniel. Was an honour to be here.

DR: Thank you for listening to today's episode. You can find a transcript of our conversation, as well as a link to the article and more information about our guests on our website. I'd like to thank Emma Ferguson and Madison Klopfer for their help with today's episode. And Alex Jungius of This is Distorted