Coronavirus Tourism

Despite risks, Brazil’s colonial cities reopen for tourism

With their traditional colonial architecture and cobblestone streets, cities dotted along the so-called Royal Road — which once connected the gold mines in the state of Minas Gerais to the coast of Rio de Janeiro — are a Brazilian tourism hotpot. Since the declaration of the Covid-19 pandemic, however, these locations have turned into something resembling ghost towns. One video posted by local business owners, using drone footage, toured the streets of the colonial town of Tiradentes, showing the tourist hotspot in a deserted state, with empty squares that are usually filled with visitors from around Brazil and the world. The region’s hugely important Easter celebrations — massive money spinners thanks to the countless World Heritage site churches along the Royal Road — were canceled, and the resulting economic hardship has hit locals hard.[restricted]

In some of these towns, up to 90 percent of family income is dependent on tourism. With desperation setting in, many of these cities decided to reopen business during last week’s Corpus Christi holiday. And the demand was there. Visitors flocked to these towns along the Royal Road, packing pavements, inns, and restaurants. The throng of tourists flocking to the Serra do Cipó region — north of state capital Belo Horizonte — caused immense traffic jams at sanitary checkpoints placed along highways.

Parachuting into one of these tourist towns, you would never imagine that Brazil is still in the throes of its worst pandemic in a century — a frightening scenario for the state of Minas Gerais, where coronavirus infection and death curves are still on the rise.

Local business owners and workers who depend on tourism to make ends meet celebrated the reopening, while community leaders protested. One group of local residents staged a protest on a bridge connecting the municipalities of Jaboticatubas and Santana do Riacho, wearing black clothes, protective masks, and gloves, begging — in vain — for tourists to turn their cars around and go home.

Brazil's Colonial cities reopen for tourism despite risks
Tiradentes, Minas Gerais. In some cities, families’ income depends entirely on tourism. Photo: Caio Pederneiras/Shuttersstock

Tourism sector cashing in on Sweethearts’ Day

The town of Monte Verde — a cold-weather region up in the Serra da Mantiqueira mountains — decided to reopen for tourism on June 4, in anticipation of Sweethearts’ Day on June 12, Brazil’s answer to Valentine’s Day. According to the local economic development agency, the hospitality industry used the shutdown period to “revamp” its local attractions.

Apparently, the strategy worked. Nearly every single room available — with bed and breakfasts limited to filling 40 percent of their capacity — was booked up. Some tweaks had to be made, though. “We are no longer cleaning guests’ rooms during their stay — only before and after check out. And fares are significantly lower than usual for the season,” said Luís Gustavo Cuadra de Almeida, who owns a luxury inn atop a mountain in Monte Verde.

Authorities say that, should the reopening cause a rise in infections, restrictions could be put in place once again. 

‘Tourists go home’

The coronavirus has forced the city of Extrema — a hotspot for natural tourism in the south of Minas Gerais — to shut down its borders for outsiders. 

Since June 5, the town of 36,000 people recorded 64 new cases, to a total tally of 226. Despite already having strict social isolation measures in place since the beginning of the pandemic, authorities decided to ramp up controls and installed a curfew. No one is allowed on the streets from 6 pm to 6 am.

Another Minas Gerais city that has banned tourists is the spa town of Poços de Caldas, the biggest attraction in the southwest portion of the state. Most of its 50 hotels are closed, and staff members have been placed on collective vacations. Since March 23, only cars with license plates from the city are allowed to enter its urban boundaries.

Despite commerce being allowed to reopen last week, Poços de Caldas has had the highest social isolation rate of the region: 42 percent, according to geolocation company In Loco. As of June 16, the city had recorded 93 coronavirus infections and four deaths. Authorities claim that the virus was brought by tourists.[/restricted]

Coronavirus Tourism

How the coronavirus is wrecking Brazil’s tourism industry

The Brazilian tourism industry had high hopes for 2020. According to the Travel Trends 2020 report, by Scottish travel platform Skyscanner, Brazil was one of the top 3 emerging destinations, with a 27-percent increase in global searches and bookings from 2018. Experts predicted that the loosening of visa policies to make life easier on travelers would begin to pay off, and projected a rise in revenue for the sector.

But then came the Covid-19 pandemic. Roughly 4 billion people in the world are currently under some sort of social isolation measure — or even strict lockdown — and nearly all flights have been grounded.[restricted]

For Brazil, the impact will be devastating. The sector represents almost 4 percent of the country’s GDP and employs some 7 million people, creating revenue for people from all social sectors. A study by think-tank Fundação Getulio Vargas estimated losses for the 2020-2021 period at BRL 117 billion (USD 20 billion). 

To compensate for the losses, it will take no less than a 17-percent annual growth rate in both 2022 and 2023 — which, considering the economic crisis Brazil is facing, won’t be easy. Not by the slightest. And that’s not to mention that we have no idea how long this crisis will last for.

Uncertainty for travelers and operators

Gislaine Navas, 38, had her suitcases packed for a trip with her husband to the northeastern coastal city of Jericoacoara between April 29 and May 2. But she had to stay home, as Brazilian states started enforcing quarantine rules as Covid-19 cases started to rise. “I got an email from the airlines saying I could postpone for up to a year, but I eventually decided to reschedule the trip to July, cost free. Should I have canceled it, I would have paid a fine,” she says.

For Douglas Coca, 42, things were much less smooth. He bought a vacation package for Porto de Galinhas, a beachfront paradise in Pernambuco, with travel platform Decolar. He was hooked up with multiple providers — for car rental, airline tickets, and accommodations. Now, he is finding it impossible to coordinate with all services a new date. “Before getting new flights, I must get new hotel bookings — but the platform simply doesn’t allow me too,” he told The Brazilian Report.

For tourism service providers, things are not much better. In many regions, such as the Fernando de Noronha archipelago, the sector is the core economic activity. 

The 21 volcanic islands are filled with picture-perfect beaches and turquoise waters — making up one of the most beautiful destinations in Brazil. It is home to 3,300 people who live off tourism — but trips have been forbidden since March 24. “Nobody can come here, and people were in lockdown between April 20 and May 10, and beaches are closed until May 31. Only people with government authorization can leave their homes, and police intercept non-compliant residents,” said innkeeper Rodrigo Valença.

The archipelago is under a special political administration attached to the state of Pernambuco, which is offering basic baskets of necessities and a BRL 200 monthly emergency aid benefit per family, to pay for utility bills. “We are fighting to free the islands from the virus. Reopening tourism now would be a mistake,” said Mr. Valença.

Fernando de Noronha had 28 confirmed Covid-19 cases — all recovered — and is currently monitoring five suspected infections.

fernando de noronha marcioenrique
Fernando de Noronha: beaches closed at least until May 31. Photo: Marcio Enrique/Shutterstock

What it will take to lift the tourism sector back to its feet

To avoid a full-scale collapse of the tourism industry, governments must step in. “Public aid will be essential to keep the sector alive, with special credit lines — especially for the aviation sector, which is the heart of the industry,” said a Fundação Getulio Vargas report. That has to been done by the federal government.

On Friday, Gustavo Montezano, head of Brazil’s National Development Bank, announced a deal to bail out Brazilian airlines through a package that may reach up to BRL 6 billion. Mr. Montezano stated during the bank’s Q1 earnings conference that the country’s three largest airlines (Gol, Latam, and Azul) accepted the plan’s conditions, which include the obligation to direct their resources towards their Brazilian operations — not to financial creditors — and to have equal conditions for all companies.

“Due to the pandemic, we have reduced our operation by 90 percent between March and April. We are now flying only 70 daily routes to 27 cities — from a normal rate of 920 daily flights to over 100 destinations,” said Marcelo Bento Ribeiro, an institutional relations director at Azul. “The aviation sector has high overheads and employs highly-specialized workers — which makes it impossible for companies to drastically cut costs. That has seriously compromised our balances. We urgently need liquidity to weather the crisis,” said Mr. Ribeiro.

But while the big airlines are being taken care of, the government must not forget small companies — who make up for the majority of the industry’s players. Experts advise in favor of increasing subsidized credit and aid packages for businesses that choose not to lay off workers. 

The (near) future of tourism is domestic

Nobody knows when international trips will be safe again — or how long it will take for countries to lift all travel bans in place at the moment. But it is hard to imagine most people eager to hop onto a jumbo-jet with 400-plus possible virus-carriers. Moreover, a boarding line respecting safe-distancing guidelines (2 meters between each person) would mean lines of about one kilometer each.

It is safe to say that the future of tourism — at least until the coronavirus scare is behind us (if it ever will) — will depend on domestic travel. For Brazil, the shock will not be that drastic, as the country has always been overlooked by international travelers. The country attracts merely 6 million foreign tourists per year, mostly from South America. 

That’s fewer travelers to the entire country than the Eiffel Tower alone.[/restricted]


Brazil intervenes in the credit market, but is it too little, too late?

As part of a long-awaited stimulus package to fight off the economic impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak, the Brazilian Monetary Council (CMN)—the watchdog of the country’s financial system—has announced measures to make it easier for families and companies to renegotiate their debts and allow banks to keep the credit flow steady. The decision, however, comes after tourism firms and airlines warned about systemic bankruptcies in their sectors following havoc on the stock exchange.

On Monday, the Central Bank—one of the institutions represented by the CMN, alongside the Economy and Planning Ministries—waived the need for banks to increase provisions to renegotiate debts over the next 6 months, a decision that may impact loans adding up to BRL 3.2 trillion. It also partially altered the bank’s capital requirements for a year to increase credit concessions by up to BRL 637 billion.

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The [restricted]measure is aligned with Economy Minister Paulo Guedes’ plan to foster credit to help companies in distress—while not using public money in the process.

“When times are good, airlines earn BRL 1, 2, 3 billion. But when times are hard for them, they need public funds? Or maybe they might get a loan for working capital,” Mr. Guedes told CNN Brasil. “Does Brazil prefer to give money to an airline today or to fight coronavirus?”

But, while the Central Bank reassures its trust in the National Finance System, saying it is ready to battle the crisis, are Brazilian companies as solid?

The biggest tourism crisis of an era

In a letter sent to the Tourism Ministry on March 13, ten tourism-related businesses considered the pandemic as the “biggest crisis the sector faces in this era,” and said they expect a high number of bankruptcies in the short-term future.

According to them, cancelation rates have already reached 85 percent in March. “Considering that [one year ago] the sector’s revenue was BRL 19.2 billion, the immediate impacts are raising concerns on business sustainability, as there are no estimates of new revenues,” read the joint statement. 

In order to provide assistance for companies, associations demand special credit lines from public banks with a minimum six-month grace period before the first payment is due. They also want the government to delay payroll taxes for six months, lift income tax on transfers to pay for services abroad, and free up money from workers’ mandatory severance fund FGTS for employees of tourism companies.

They also want the Justice Ministry to stand in favor of rescheduling trips as opposed to canceling, “as the agencies do not have enough reserves to refund customers.” In this sense, they want the ministry to take previous guidance about the issue, published early in March, and turn it into a binding standard.

As economists have warned, airlines are among the hardest-hit companies in this crisis. On Monday, the Brazilian Association of Airlines said that Brazil’s demand for domestic flights has dropped by 30 percent and by 50 percent for international flights from one year ago. 

The association says it has already contacted the Minister of Infrastructure, Tarcísio Gomes de Freitas, asking for similar aid measures requested by tourism companies: tax exemptions for fuels and tickets, tax exemptions on payroll amounting to 1 percent of gross revenues, temporary waiving and reduction of airspace control fees, ending income tax on the lease of airplanes, motors, and components, suspending taxes on payments made abroad, and special credit lines.     

Brazilian airlines are not alone, as global perspectives for the sector are scary. According to Sydney-based consulting firm CAPA Center for Aviation, “by the end of May 2020, most airlines in the world will be bankrupt” and there is no sign of going back to normalcy any time soon. 

Beyond traveling

With an increasing number of public events being canceled, such as football matches and concerts, the economic impacts of the Covid-19 outbreak are likely to spill over into other sectors, suggesting that tourism will not be the only area in need of assistance.

One of Brazil’s major entertainment companies Time4Fun has just postponed the Brazilian edition of the Lollapalooza music festival, pushing the event from April to December and offering customers refunds if the new date does not suit them. The blow happens after Time4Fun recorded a 34-percent drop in revenues in 2019, for which it blamed the slow economy and changes to lower tax incentives for cultural ventures.

The company is also organizing two Taylor Swift concerts in São Paulo in July—which have, for now, been maintained. But markets have priced in grim perspectives for Time4Fun: year-to-date performance shows an astonishing 66-percent freefall at São Paulo’s stock exchange.

Moreover, in a note to clients, BTG Pactual analysts said the lack of visibility on how the Covid-19 outbreak will affect the event company’s business “may prevent the stock from re-rating significantly in the mid-term.”[/restricted]


The hidden landscapes of Brazil’s Pantanal

For years, geologists and geographers from Brazil and abroad have been studying the landscapes that shape the floodplain of the Rio Negro, in the southern portion of the Pantanal. Even after all this time, the experts were unaware that under a huge carpet of aquatic plants, there was a huge hidden lake.

In a paper published in October in the scientific journal Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, researchers from São Paulo universities described the discovery of a lake that occupies an area equivalent to a little over two-thirds of the city of São Paulo. “It was almost impossible to identify it at first sight,” said geographer Eder Renato Merino, a researcher at the Institute of Energy and Environment of the University of São Paulo (IEE-USP), one of the authors of the study.

“From a distance, the accumulation of water hyacinths and baceiros along its surface makes it look like an area of land covered by grass.” Water hyacinths—floating aquatic plants of the genus Eichhornia—and baceiros are islands of floating vegetation in the middle of flooded areas.

Mr. Merino is one of those credited with identifying the lake, located in the floodplain of the Rio Negro. The finding was the result of satellite imagery analyses carried out during his Ph.D. course, concluded in 2016 under the guidance of geologist Mario Luis Assine, of the Institute of Geosciences and Exact Sciences of the São Paulo State University (Unesp) in Rio Claro. For decades, he has been studying the transformations that the landscape of the Pantanal—one of the world’s largest floodplains—has undergone. In this case, he and Mr. Merino were interested in investigating the formation of the Rio Negro plains and the process of capturing and distributing water and sediments in the region during the rainy season, between the months of October and May.

Uncovering the lake

During analysis of the course of the Rio Negro, from its sources on the plateau to the lower and flatter lands of the Pantanal, they observed that this body of water spread as it advanced over the floodplain. It changed course and created several winding canals along the way. So far, nothing new; the changes in the trajectory of the rivers in the Pantanal are well known by researchers. The surprise came when they realized that the channels seemed to disappear in a certain region of the map, which was apparently composed of land. It was as if the canals were diving underground to resurface further ahead. “It was a deserted and totally flat area, with no buildings, roads or signs of cattle raising,” says Mr. Assine.

pantanal plants
Photo: Eder Renato Merino

To understand the origin of the phenomenon, Messrs. Assine and Merino looked at a historical series of remote sensor images from the region, obtained by the Landsat satellite between 2000 and 2011. “We analyzed the images and then flew over the site,” says Mr. Merino. “We found that there was a lake, hidden under a huge blanket of water plants,” he explains. Back at the laboratory, the researchers made more detailed analyses of the images.

The objective was to determine the frequency of flooding and the humidity index in that area. Using computational models, they found that there was a permanently flooded area of almost 1,100 square kilometers, even in the seasonal dry periods between May and September. They concluded that this was a large lake, which had not been mentioned until then.

The lake is estimated to be between three and four meters deep, with some variation in water level between the dry and rainy periods. Its bed is composed of—among other materials—a thick layer of fine sand and mud enriched by organic matter formed from decomposing plants. According to Mr. Merino, it is supplied by the waters of the Negro and Aquidauana rivers, especially during the rainy season. Compared to the Rio Negro, the Aquidauana river is mainly responsible for transporting sediments into the lake. This is because, unlike the Aquidauana, most of the sediments of the Rio Negro are trapped in higher lands before descending to the floodplain.

Peculiarities of the findings

The behavior of the two rivers that feed into the lake is also completely different from one another. The waters of the Rio Negro run through several channels, which form at the bottom of the lake. Meanwhile, the waters of the Rio Aquidauana cross the flooded area by a single surface channel. According to Mr. Assine, this channel was formed during the high season. At that time, he explains, the waters of the river, rich in sediments, overflow into the lake. “The sediment that overflows with the water accumulates on the lateral margins of the Rio Aquidauana, forming elevated lateral dikes, which form a channel through which the river passes when its water levels decrease again,” he explained.

The researchers also analyzed the plants that cover much of the lake’s surface. According to them, the vegetation has long roots that spread below the waterline. Transported by rivers, these plants accumulate along the surface and, in many cases, form islands of vegetation in the middle of the flooded area. Some of these islands are being colonized by pioneer plant species that are able to settle and multiply rapidly in inhospitable environments.


“This is the first time that this type of fluvial lake has been discovered in the Pantanal,” says Mr. Merino. It is estimated that the immense body of water was formed from movements of tectonic plates, which are still frequent in the region. The associated geological faults produce earthquakes with a magnitude of around 3.5 degrees on the Richter scale and are probably responsible for the progressive lowering of the area in the middle of the Rio Negro floodplain, favoring the accumulation of water and the formation of a large river lake. “This is a very well-preserved region that can only be accessed by boat,” says Mr. Merino. “The area is also very rich in biodiversity, offering favorable conditions for the reproduction of several species of birds, reptiles, and mammals,” adds Mr. Assine.

The biodiversity of the Pantanal

Geographer Renato Lada Guerreiro, professor at the Federal Institute of Education, Science, and Technology of Paraná, highlights that the Pantanal is a complex environment, comprising a vast biodiversity of species and a wide variety of ecosystems. “Identifying all these ecosystems in detail is a very complex task, whether by means of satellite images or field expeditions,” said the researcher, who did not participate in the study. “The work of Messrs. Merino and Assine is an example of how we can deepen our knowledge of the landscapes that shape this biome.”

pantanal sediments
The canal through which the Aquidauana River runs was formed by sediments. Photo: Eder Renato Merino

According to Mr. Guerreiro, the study also makes it even more evident that the systems formed by lakes in the Pantanal are not the results of the same processes. “The origin of this ‘hidden lake’ in the Rio Negro floodplain resulted from geological, hydrological and climatic processes that are completely different from those that gave rise to the Nhecolândia lagoons, near the municipality of Corumbá in Mato Grosso do Sul, even though the two areas are very close to one another,” says the researcher. The main difference between lakes and lagoons is their size. Though both are defined as an area of water surrounded by land, lakes, in general, are larger than lagoons.

According to Guerreiro, the lagoons of Nhecolândia are said to have emerged from depressions shaped by the accumulation of fine sand grains carried by the wind in dry periods at the end of the Pleistocene, between 20,000 and 15,000 years ago. “To study the Pantanal is to be surprised with new discoveries at every moment,” said Mr. Assine.

Cited in this article


1. Mudanças paleo-hidrológicas, cronologia de eventos e dinâmica sedimentar no quaternário da bacia do Pantanal (nº 14/06889-2); Modalidade Auxílio à Pesquisa – Regular; Pesquisador responsável Mario Luiz Assine (Unesp); Investimento R$ 253.715,39.

2. Mapeamento das lagoas salinas e cristalinas do Pantanal de Nhecolândia por meio de sensoriamento remoto ótico e interferométrico (nº 17/26318-8); Modalidade Bolsa de Pós-doutorado; Pesquisador responsável Adolpho José Melfi (USP); Bolsista Eder Renato Merino; Investimento R$ 209.304,09.


Merino, E. R. e Assine, M. L. Hidden in plain sight: How finding a lake in the Brazilian Pantanal improves understanding of wetland hydrogeomorphology. Earth Surface Processes and Landforms. out. 2019.

Read the original, in Portuguese.


Holambra: the Dutchest city in Brazil

On the flat highway heading north-west out of the megacity of São Paulo, It doesn’t take long before the skyscrapers recede, giving way to vast pastures and nothingness. Once the bright countryside sun comes out from behind the clouds, you’re undoubtedly somewhere else. With the oppressive heat scorching the grass on the surrounding low hills, one could say it’s not a suitable place for delicate things. Some pops of color off on a discrete exit ramp remind you you’re not in Texas. Cars queuing up for their first snaps of a town gate decorated with well-maintained flowers announce you’ve arrived in Holambra, the “Dutchest” place in Brazil. [restricted]

While Holambra sits a mere two hours drive from São Paulo, the journey undertaken by the first 680 Dutch immigrants in 1948 was not so straightforward. They followed an unpaved path from the nearby city of Campinas to Fazenda Ribeirão cattle farm, a 5,000-acre piece of land bought by the Dutch Organization of Catholic Farmers and Vegetable Growers (KNBTB) from American meatpacker Armour & Company.

This place, which would eventually become Holambra—a neologism combining Holland, America and Brazil—was bare and isolated. 

Fleeing to Brazil to rebuild their lives after World War II, the Dutch community faced some hardships right from the off. Their first 700 dairy-producing cattle perished from tropical diseases and financial crisis struck, causing many of the families to move to Brazil’s South.

While they managed to reorganize their economic activities by setting up a cooperative agricultural system, the real game-changer came in the late 1950s, when the first gladioli seeds arrived.

holambra netherlands brazil flower capital tourism
Holambra is the “Dutchest” city in Brazil

Nothing towers over the windmill 

Modern-day Holambra proudly stands by its title as the Flower Capital of Brazil. It pays attention to the little details: road signs are tulip-shaped, streets are named after flowers or Dutch cities. Under the shadow of the high eucalyptus trees in Van Gogh Park, or by the shore of the Dutch Lake, the town doesn’t really feel like Brazil—that is, if it wasn’t for the scorching heat.

Though it is tiny, Holambra is far from an exclusively Dutch town. Therefore, as it grows and modernizes, maintaining this symbolism is vital. “Holambra is and will remain preserved. We have many ways to maintain the city’s history. We teach it in schools, we have cultural associations, dance groups. It is our job to protect it as public administrators and as a society, it doesn’t matter how many Dutch people live here today,” says Alessandra Caratti, the town’s tourism director. 

And the municipal government has found ways to guarantee Holambra’s identity through public policies. As tour guides explain, buildings higher than 38.5 meters are not permitted, as “no building can stand higher than the United Peoples Windmill”—Holambra’s biggest tourist attraction.

Property owners who build Dutch-style houses are given significant urban property tax breaks. A quick walk in the town center shows that the strategy worked, even bank branches adhere to the Dutch colonial style. But for Brazilians, nothing says “European” like trees surrounded by large houses with well-kempt lawns and no fences.

The guides claim that the town is the safest place around. According to latest violent figures, not a single murder happened in Holambra in 2019. The five closest cities registered at least two cases. 

Being only 37 km from Campinas, one of São Paulo state’s largest cities, Holambra seems immune to big city issues. For Ms. Caratti, “we can only benefit from being close to Campinas,” as many of Holambra’s residents choose to enjoy the quiet of their town and commute to nearby cities. 

“Even though the city is safe, new residents still think they are unprotected. That feeling makes large walls, gates, and fences appear,” we hear during the tour. Well, they can say that despite the safety, we are still in Brazil.  

Holding it all together 

Behind Holambra’s movie-set visage lies a strong sense of community and a successful market. Its incredible GDP per capita of BRL 66,380—more than double the national average—makes Holambra the 143rd wealthiest city in Brazil. Not to mention the safety or education numbers that are way above national standards

Undoubtedly, flowers have much to do with it. Holambra has become São Paulo’s second largest flower producer by area, with 397 acres farmed. The state itself is the leading flower producer and exporter in Brazil, accounting for 62.3 percent of the USD 13 billion in exports in 2018 and 70 percent of domestic consumption, according to the state’s Department of Agriculture and Supply.

Photo: Wtondossantos

Yet, the big ace in the hole was the creation of the cooperative system. Immigrant communities wanted to create a Dutch business mentality and their vision became a reality with the inauguration of wholesale florist Veiling. One of the city’s cooperatives, Veiling represented a turning point in the flower trade.

The seed for change was the importing of a Dutch klok, brought to Holambra in 1989. A large clock-like object, it is used for Dutch auctions, where things run in reverse: instead of letting buyers compete for the highest bid, the auction starts with a high price and works down, until a buyer makes a bid. 

According to the Brazilian Micro and Small Business Support Service (Sebrae), since Veiling Holambra became the city’s economic cornerstone, flower production took a leap. The system change managed to bring the flowers and ornamental plants of São Paulo to all capitals and main centers of consumption across the country. 

Now, Veiling has its very own annual trade fair, connecting over 140 companies to experts and producers to exchange ideas, discuss trends and close business deals. According to Mr. Caratti, the business tourism fostered by such events is Holambra’s new booming industry. 

With its auction system going backwards, Holambra is moving forward.

Made for Instagram 

The flowers have made room for more than one business opportunity. As the harvest grew, tourism blossomed alongside it. Local properties spotted a chance to increase their income by opening up their fields and souvenir shops for photographers and their clients, turning Holambra into the dream scenario for wedding, fashion and debutant photoshoots. 

To encourage this type of business, the town has invested in designing a number of picture-perfect spots, like as the Lovers’ Deck, a bridge over the Vitória Régia lake, to which couples tie padlocks sold by local entrepreneurs. There are also child-friendly spots and playgrounds, which makes it an attractive destination for families. 

Photo: Natália Scalzaretto

“Tourists come here to visit the fields and buy flowers, but we have many attractions. Holambra is a culturally diverse city, we have events every month. Not to mention the ‘instagrammable’ landscapes,” adds Ms. Caratti, noting that Holambra has indeed experienced a boom in the social media era. On Instagram, the tag #holambra has had 236,000 mentions as of September 2019. 

No other time of the year is as busy in Holambra than September, at the beginning of the Brazilian spring. But the return of hotter temperatures is less of a draw for tourists than ExpoFlora, the largest ornamental flower show in Latin America. It has now been held annually for 39 years and brings in around 300,000 tourists for a five-weekend flower-bonanza.

Food attractions flourish regardless of the season. Walking down main street—named after John Maurice of Nassau, the governor of Dutch Brazil in the 17th century—you can run into a number of options of northern European cuisine.

Restaurant Casa Bela serves up a BRL 45 kassler, consisting of a slightly smoked pork steak, sauerkraut, wortel stamppot (a mash of potato, carrots and onions), crispy bacon and a creamy apple sauce. It’s a good idea to eat after ExpoFlora, as the food on offer can be quite heavy. 

Tasting Expoflora 

Inside the ExpoFlora pavillion, a whole other city rises from the infinite lines of cars and tour buses. Entering the pavilion, a large hallway ends with a stand selling early Christmas decorations. After inevitably telling yourself “it’s only September!”, you are then faced with two options: left to an overcrowded shopping area, or right, to Park Expoflora. 

The latter takes you to a large patio decorated with flowers where excited kids, talkative couples and curious old ladies crowd around to take pictures in front of every square meter. 

“It could have been more Dutch”

Edione, Iracy, Geni, and Maura, a quartet of bus-pass wielding senior citizens, were visiting Expoflora for the first time. Speaking for her girlfriends, Edione described the experience as “disappointing.” The four ladies had taken the bus from the city of Ribeirão Preto, and were relaxing in front of a huge field of dry grass, with an amusement park. 

“Why didn’t they put the flowers along this field? It would have been a much more beautiful view,” they complained. 

Instead, flowers are largely limited to decor. Heart-shaped floral arrangements were fought over a few meters behind, while people lined up to take “flower field” pictures on a panel assembled behind a small flower bed. “Tulipo,” Holambra’s humanoid tulip mascot, was another hit.  

The ladies were also left confused by the cultural references. Dutch icons had to compete with random Brazilian popular music; people danced while a fanfare played a children’s lullaby by popular Brazilian singer Xuxa, in front of a tree fully decorated with Dutch clogs. The visitors had a laugh about it, but shrugged at the end.

“We tried to buy some Dutch clogs, but they were too expensive. In the end, it was not what we saw on television. It could have been more Dutch.”

Photo: Natália Scalzaretto



Brazil’s tourism board doesn’t cater to foreigners

A new program announced by the Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur) has sparked criticism that the country’s tourism promotion platform is being directed at Brazilians, and not foreign tourists.

Embratur is developing a reality show project—entitled “O Rei do Rolê“—in which foreign social media users will compete to win the chance to travel around Brazil for 30 days, meeting President Jair Bolsonaro in the process.

The tourism board has let slip [restricted]few details about O Rei do Rolê (translated loosely as “The King of the Party”), but the fact that the title of the show will not even have an English or Spanish translation highlights the insularity of Embratur’s agenda.

Those interested in taking part will be required to submit 1-minute videos explaining why they should be chosen, and Embratur has suggested it will consider the number of social media followers of contestants when selecting a winner.

This comes weeks after the Federal Police released data showing the number of tourists visiting Brazil fell 5.4 percent in the first half of the year, compared with the same period in 2018. Between January and June, approximately 2.77 million foreigners visited Brazil, almost 200,000 less than came to the country in the first six months of last year. The decrease has largely been put down to the financial crisis in Argentina, as the neighboring country is the main source of tourism in Brazil.

In March, President Jair Bolsonaro had announced that he was scrapping tourist visa requirements for citizens from the U.S, Canada, Japan and Australia. The measure only came into effect in June, however, so any early effects of the move have not yet shown up in the Federal Police’s data.

“Visit and Love Us”

O Rei do Rolê is not the only misstep taken by Embratur since current head Gilson Machado Neto took over the board in May. In fact, the appointment of Mr. Machado Neto created controversy in itself. Previously known as the accordion player of forró band Brucelose (named after a disease on which Mr. Machado Neto wrote his university thesis), he received a BRL 3,500 fine for disobeying sustainable tourism rules when he constructed illegal tents and chalets on a beach in the northeastern state of Alagoas.

In July, Embratur launched its new brand identity to widespread ridicule. The tourism board’s new slogan “Brazil, Visit and Love Us,” carried with it a sexual innuendo that suggests the motto was not verified by a fluent English speaker. Furthermore, the font used for the slogan belongs to a French designer who did not give authorization for his work to be used by Embratur.

Follow by example

Alongside O Rei do Rolê, Embratur has recently announced a series of new “tourism ambassadors,” who will reportedly provide “voluntary” services to the agency. Each appointment is worse than the last.

The highest-profile signing for Embratur was ex-footballer Ronaldinho Gaúcho, who, in 2018, flirted with the idea of running for public office for Jair Bolsonaro’s political party. While recognized around the world and a potentially great choice to spread Brazil’s image abroad, Ronaldinho has had his passport seized due to an unpaid environmental fine.

In 2015, Ronaldinho was convicted by a federal court in his home state of Rio Grande do Sul for building an illegal fishing platform in a preservation area in Porto Alegre.

After Ronaldinho, came Brazilian jiu-jitsu personality Renzo Gracie, who runs a chain of gyms across Brazil and the south-east of the U.S. Amid the war of words between President Jair Bolsonaro and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron over the Amazon fire crisis, Mr. Gracie published a video on social media calling Mr. Macron a pansy, and threatening to “choke him.”

Elsewhere, Embratur has called up Brazilian country duo Bruno e Marrone, and daytime television presenter Ratinho, figures who are complete unknowns outside of Brazil.

The Brazilian Report contacted Embratur with a series of questions on the agency’s tourism programs and their appointments of ambassadors, but received no response.[/restricted]


Is São Paulo really getting its own Puerto Madero?

Walking around the Rio de la Plata in Buenos Aires is among the most pleasant experiences the city has to offer. Puerto Madero’s pool of bars and restaurants framed by the Puente de la Mujer bridge, coupled with a beautiful park and the calm waters of the river creates one of the most picture-perfect scenes of the Argentinian capital—enough to make tourists pay no attention to the fact that the charming landscape sits on top of an old landfill. That’s the kind of experience Governor João Doria is looking to build [restricted]on the São Paulo Pinheiros River.

Mr. Doria, who already served half a term as São Paulo’s mayor, has promised to clean the river—which has been declared biologically dead for years—by the time he leaves office in December 2022.

“The deadline established by the governor to Sabesp, Emae, DAEE, Cetesb, and related agencies by way of the Infrastructure and Environment Department is December 2022 for us to deliver a clean river and riverbanks for São Paulo’s population,” he said.

Mr. Doria also plans to privatize the Usina Traição, a now-empty water-lifting station built in the 1940s. It is located nearby the Ary Torres bridge, connecting two of São Paulo’s most expensive neighborhoods, Cidade Jardim and Vila Olímpia. Due to its privileged location, the government aims to transform the space into São Paulo’s very own Puerto Madero, complete with bars and restaurants. 

Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires
Puerto Madero in Buenos Aires

A Herculean task for São Paulo

To carry out this plan, the government plans to privatize the space—which currently belongs to Emae, a state-owned company that manages energy generation in São Paulo’s metropolitan area—as well as burying the electric cables on the rivers banks. The cost is expected to reach BRL 1.5 billion and will be shared with the private sector.

Mr. Doria visited China recently, trying to call investors’ attention to the project. According to him, the China Railway Construction Corporate has demonstrated interested in investing in the river’s decontamination in exchange for the possibility to operate passenger and cargo transportation, besides entertainment options on the riverbank.

But whoever chooses to bid for the project will have a Herculean task at hand: 80 percent of the Pinheiros River is sewage, brought by its 25 affluent rivers. Sabesp, the state-owned sanitation company of São Paulo, identified that 500,000 homes need to be connected to sewage treatment stations—and 73,000 of them are not connected to the sewage collection networks.

It will also be necessary to remove the 1.2 million cubic meters of trash out of the river and increasing the monitoring of water quality. The government estimates that 14 bidding processes will be required to clean the basins connected to the Pinheiros River; two invitations for bids have already been published.

Around 3.3 million citizens will be affected by the works, which are expected to generate 3,700 direct and indirect jobs.

As a way to make sure the goals will be conquered this time, the state government decided to adopt a new form of procuring services. Payments for the private sector will be performance-based: the cleaner the water, the more money they receive. “To evaluate performance, targets such as the number of new properties connected to the network and water quality will be evaluated,” said Sabesp. Of Pinheiros’s 25 sub-basins, 16 will be managed on a performance basis.

An exercise of faith

The people of São Paulo has been demanding authorities to clean up the city’s most important rivers—the Pinheiros and Tietê—for almost 30 years. Back then, the rivers were silted, causing massive floods and damages in the city at almost every severe rainfall.

In 1992, then governor Luiz Antonio Fleury launched a project to clean the Tietê—the most important river in São Paulo state—promising that he would drink the river’s clean water by 2005, the first deadline to finish the project.

Three decades and USD 3 billion later, neither Mr. Fleury or any of the governors that came after him are able to fulfill this promise. According to the state government, since the project started, the length of pollution at Tietê River diminished from 530 km to 122 km, and 10 million citizens gained access to sewage collection and treatment. Yet, the positive results aren’t those which greet visitors to São Paulo, with the urban stretches of the Tietê giving off a famous rotten stench. This won’t be anytime soon, either. Governor Doria estimates that it will take at least another eight years to make the Tietê a clean river.

Even so, Mr. Doria said he would rather not judge his predecessors, but wasn’t afraid to commit himself to the project, guaranteeing he would fulfill his word.

Is there hope?

Tietê and Pinheiros are not alone when it comes to dead urban rivers, but some examples around the world may serve as inspiration. London’s Thames River was pronounced dead in 1957, but is now filled with wildlife and tourism boats.

The clean-up took decades and was a combination of investment in better sewage treatment, a reduction in the use of pesticides which ended up in the river carried by the rain, and less contamination by metals, reports the BBC.

Even though it is much better than it was in the Victorian era, when it was known as “The Great Stink”—exhaling a nasty smell that forced parliament sessions to be interrupted when the wind was strong—the Thames still faces challenges to survive.

Also according to the BBC, in 2019, one of the worst problems is the pollution of plastic and single-use items. To tackle this issue, the government and civil-society organizations are teaming up. Thames 21, an organization that aims to recover the river, has projects such as “Land of The Fanns”, which aims to recover Thames’ lowlands.

The case illustrates how complex São Paulo’s challenge is. For specialists consulted by radio broadcaster CBN, the Pinheiros and Tietê rivers cannot have a full recovery without work to restore the banks and lowlands that were altered or destroyed when the rivers’ courses were altered, for the construction of São Paulo’s most important expressways.  

“For environmentalists, a river is living water, with fish, that provides sustainability for its community. And those two big urban rivers won’t become that again, neither will the rivers of New York, London, Paris or South Korea,” said Malu Ribeiro, from NGO SOS Mata Atlântica, in an interview with CBN.[/restricted]


Spending New Year in Brazil? You should book now

Brazil’s New Year celebrations are world-famous. In coastal towns, beaches are covered with throngs of revelers and fireworks light up the sky. Not surprisingly, the country-wide party has become a notorious tourist destination.

However, with crowded hotels and expensive rates, first-timers are often unaware of some basic tricks that can make your experience that much smoother. To help plan your perfect New Year vacation, we came up with a few tips to upgrade your trip to Brazil. [restricted]

Book in advance!

Although it seems miles away, you might already be late for the party. Prices for New Year celebrations, or Reveillon, as Brazilians call it, rise by the day. In fact, hotels in major destinations are often sold out in a blink of an eye. The safest time to book your trip is around the end of June or early July for the best prices and availability, but it’s certainly not too late to find cool spots around the country.

Don’t believe us? In 2018, the prediction was that 95.35 percent of hotels in Pipa, a tiny beach town in the northern state of Rio Grande do Norte, were to be occupied. In fact, bookings surpassed expectations, according to the Brazilian Association of the Hotel Industry (ABIH), and the little beach town hit 100 percent occupancy.

It’s also worth phoning hotels to discuss rates when booking your stay—you never know when you might come across a discount. For improved prices, travel agencies tend to offer New Year’s packages which bundle both your hotel and flight. Some useful websites to plan your trip include Hotel Urbano,, and CVC. Adioso is another handy online platform, as you can simply plug in “Brazil” as your destination and they’ll show you the cheapest flights to anywhere in the country.

Houses over hotels

A good alternative to hotels—which are often the first to fill up—is to rent a house or apartment, giving you more of a private and local experience. Airbnb is a good option, with a huge presence in Brazil, offering all kinds of accommodation often for advantageous prices. However, over the New Year period, it is common for Airbnb hosts to rent their places for a minimum of 10 days. Another great tool is the website Alugue Temporada, which is similar to Airbnb and features different homes available for short-term rentals.

Beat the traffic

When choosing where to stay, make sure you know exactly what you’re doing on New Year’s Eve. If you’re going somewhere more secluded, plan ahead and arrive a few days in advance, as Brazil’s highways can get extremely hectic during the holiday period. If you’re driving on the day, be prepared. Traffic jams can last for hours as people scramble to arrive at their celebrations. Be sure to take extra care on the road, too, as New Year is the peak time for drunk-driving incidents.

Pick the right celebration

Brazil has a multitude of options when it comes to Reveillon. While you can find sets of parties that last an entire week, there are also many quieter festivities on New Year’s Eve. A quick heads up— most New Year parties sell tickets in advance, and they go fast. Prices also increase the longer you wait, so buying them as quick as possible is the best way to go.

If you’re looking for ostentatious fireworks displays, Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza have the best spectacles. For an idea of scale, at last year’s New Year party, Rio’s Copacabana beach hosted an astonishing 2.8 million people.

Before hitting the beach to watch the show, it’s a good idea to book a nice dinner at a restaurant or hotel, as many places organize outstanding meals for the special day. 

If you’re looking for a longer, livelier holiday, you can also find package deals involving five to seven parties throughout the New Year’s week in places such as Boipeba or São Miguel dos Milagres, two small beach towns in the Northeast of Brazil. But, once again, prepare your wallet as prices can be hefty.

For a bit of quiet relaxation with the family or your partner, the best bet is to head inland. Bonito is a small town in Mato Grosso do Sul which is famous for ecotourism, its crystal-clear lakes and caves perfect for diving make it a properly unique experience.

Gear for the New Year

After following our tips and booking your trip, it’s time to relax and look forward to what will be an incredible holiday. A quick tip that you might be unaware of: Brazilians wear either white, gold or silver on Reveillon to welcome in the new year. These colors represent peace and luck for the future.

But underneath all of that, there’s another clothing tradition which many Brazilians swear by. On the night of New Year’s Eve, the story goes that the color of your underwear will predict what’s in store for you in the coming 12 months. If you’re looking for peace and tranquility, pick something white or blue. For wealth and riches, go for yellow. If you want to find true love, it’s pink, but if passion is what you are after, wear red.[/restricted]


Winter tourism destinations for when Brazil gets chilly

The image of Brazil abroad is incompatible with the notion of winter. Most tourists come expecting to lay back on a beach with a caipirinha. So it may come as a surprise that Brazil has quite a few winter tourism destinations for snuggling up with hot cocoa and reading by the fireplace.

Many parts of the country do, in fact, experience sweater weather: from June through to early September. Many cities even have winter festivals, where visitors can enjoy warm food and hot drinks. Among them is the traditional snack of pinhão, a strain of pine nut which is much larger than those normally found in North America and Europe.[restricted]

Although it’s possible to see snow in the southernmost states, tourists coming from places with temperatures that regularly go below zero might find the Brazilian winter more akin to autumn. Temperatures rarely dip below freezing, and remain mild compared to global standards. According to the National Meteorological Institute (INMET), the lowest recorded temperature was minus 13 degrees celsius.

Important to remember, however, is that the infrastructure in most cities is built with the summer in mind. In places like São Paulo, homes and offices keep out the heat, meaning that it can often be warmer outside than inside. By offering European-style architecture and seasonal events, winter destinations are the perfect escape.

São Paulo

Fog coming in the Paranapiacaba village
Fog coming in the Paranapiacaba village

Known as the Brazilian Switzerland, Campos do Jordão is one of the most popular winter destinations for wealthy Brazilian families. Its winter festival is actually a month-long music event that attracts an international audience in July every year. Its neighboring city, Santo Antônio do Pinhal, hosts its own festival around the same time, with foodie highlights dishes including trout and pinhão.  

Only 50 km from the city of São Paulo is the town of Paranapiacaba, which has hosted its winter festival since 2000. Visitors can enjoy over 100 shows and cultural events, but it is recommended to arrive early, as the event welcomes 60 thousand people each year. 

Tucked away near the border of Rio state is the hill town of Cunha. Those headed to the colonial town of Paraty may drive right past it, but its natural beauty alone makes it worth a stop. In August, it hosts a gastronomic festival, with a special focus on lamb. 

Rio Grande do Sul

Gramado city at sunset
Gramado city at sunset

The southernmost state of Rio Grande do Sul is home to the so-called Serra Gaucha mountain range, and the best place to try and see snow in the country. Gramado and Canela are two more traditional winter getaways, boasting Bavarian-style architecture amidst lush natural beauty. Tourists especially enjoy the fondue and chocolatier offerings, among other gastronomic experiences. 

Less visited are the winemaking region of Caxias do Sul and the plateaus of Cambará do Sul, which are perfect for hiking and exploring nature. Luckily all four of these cities are within driving distance of one another, allowing for varied experiences in one trip. 

Minas Gerais 

Monte Verde is very sought-after in the winter thanks to its cold climate and European influence
Monte Verde is very sought-after in the winter thanks to its cold climate and European influence

The food from this state, referred to as comida Mineira, is synonymous with farm to fork, homestyle cooking. Some of Brazil’s most loved dishes come from the region, and visitors are guaranteed to go home with a suitcase full of cheese and other dairy products. Monte Verde is a hilly region ideal for chill-seekers year-round. Temperatures usually stay below 24 degrees celsius even in summer, and are often in single digits during the winter months. 

Although known for being a destination for wildlife and adventure seekers during the summer, Bonito holds a weekend-long festival at the end of July. Winter visitors enjoy fewer crowds and more affordable prices. And an added bonus: no mosquitoes. 

Rio de Janeiro

Penedo was settled by Finnish immigrants in 1929
Penedo was settled by Finnish immigrants in 1929

During the winter months, residents from Rio’s capital flock to the nearby ‘Imperial’ town of Petrópolis. Among other festivals is the Bauernfest, an event that celebrates the culture of German settlers in the area. Music and food take a back seat to the main attractions, which predictably include beer, but also traditional German sweets. The winter event is even more popular than the town’s Oktoberfest held later in the year. 

Beer aficionados can hike 42 kilometers from Petrópolis to Teresópolis, another popular winter location for Brazilians. The two cities, along with the towns of Friburgo e Guapimirim, form Rio’s “beer route,” where both traditional German breweries and new craft microbreweries can be found. 

Farther away in Rio’s countryside is the Finnish settlement of Penedo, which hosts cultural dances every Saturday. Beyond trying Finnish culture and food, visitors can hike in the nearby National Park of Itatiaia. Inaugurated in 1937, it is the oldest national park of Brazil, and offers a unique rocky terrain suitable for rock-climbing.[/restricted]


Brazil’s plan to double tourists in three years

For people around the world, Brazil conjures up images of the exotic, the exuberant, and the exciting. You would be hard pressed to find anyone around the world who would turn down the opportunity to visit. But, if that’s the case, then why aren’t more people coming?

Brazil attracted 6.6 million tourists in 2018, less than one-quarter of the total visitors to Austria (which is smaller than Brazil’s north-eastern state of Pernambuco). Almost twice as many people attended matches in the second tier of the English football league last year than visited the so-called “land of football.”[restricted]

While Brazil’s tourism numbers are steadily on the rise, with 2018’s figures 1.5 million higher than 2010, the Ministry of Tourism is understandably not satisfied. This month, the government republished its 2018-2022 National Tourism Plan, which sets the lofty goal of reaching 12 million foreign visitors per year by the end of the project.

tourism brazil

tourism brazil

Among the first practical measures taken by the current government was the lifting of visa requirements for tourists from the U.S., Japan, Canada, and Australia. President Jair Bolsonaro came in for some criticism for the unilateral nature of the measure (Brazilian tourists still require visas to enter the four countries), but early numbers from the Ministry of Tourism show that some effects are beginning to surface, even before the decree comes into effect on June 17.

In one month after the measure was issued, bookings from American tourists increased a reported 53 percent, with the other three nationalities seeing even larger growth. The United States was responsible for over 500,000 tourists to Brazil last year, meaning that anything to boost this influx would help the country get closer to its targets.

What’s keeping people away?

Mega-events such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games were useful tools to increase tourism and present a more up-to-date and welcoming view of Brazil to those coming from abroad. With host cities spread all around the country, foreigners took in lesser-explored regions of Brazil and left happy—and desperate to return.

However, since 2016, Brazil’s political, economic, and urban crises have been all over the news, putting some foreigners off. Rio de Janeiro, so welcoming to tourists during the World Cup and Olympics, descended into a de facto civil war in recent years, with violence reaching troubling levels and the state coming under military intervention in 2018.

The centralization of Brazil’s tourist attractions is another persistent issue. While the country is home to such marvels as the Amazon rainforest and the Pantanal swamplands, tourists typically stick to Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, or São Paulo. One potential reason for this lack of variety is the cost of regional travel within Brazil, as well as the scarcity of routes. A one-way flight from New York to São Paulo can cost around USD 400, but then a flight from São Paulo to the Amazonian city of Manaus could set tourists back around half of that amount, as well as requiring an extra four to five hours of travel.

argentina tourists brazil

Recent developments in the country’s air travel market suggest that this situation could become even worse. Airline Avianca Brasil is on the brink of bankruptcy; in the selling off of its assets, market leaders Gol and Latam are set to further their already suffocating grip on the sector, meaning airfares are likely to increase.

A further stick in the mud concerns a provisional decree put in place last year to open up Brazilian airlines to foreign capital. While celebrated by the government, the measure has yet to be ratified by Congress and is set to expire tomorrow. Furthermore, even if confirmed, the measure is set to be amended to instate a minimum weight allowance of free luggage for passengers, a move set to frustrate low-cost airlines looking to enter the Brazilian market.

Bolsonaro says no to LGBTQ tourism

Brazil is regarded as a leading destination for LGBTQ tourism and is home to the world’s biggest Pride Parade, held every year in São Paulo. However, the current government may be about to push this population away.

As mentioned earlier, the government republished the 2018–2022 tourism plan, which was originally issued under former President Michel Temer. The only change to this new version came in the section concerning “allowing the democratic access of priority populations to touristic activities.” The original document included an item stating the government should “adapt the sector for the inclusion of senior citizens and the LGBT population.”

The republication removed this mention of LGBTQ tourism, leaving only senior citizens as a priority population.

Jair Bolsonaro, who is a “proud” homophobe, has recently stated that Brazil cannot be a country for gay tourism. The effects of such prejudice could put a dent in LGBTQ tourism, which is a burgeoning sector with huge financial potential. Last week, The Brazilian Report’s Juliana Costa explored how Brazil became an LGBTQ hotspot.[/restricted]


Despite Bolsonaro, Brazil is one of the world’s top LGBTQ tourism destinations

“Brazil can’t be the country of gay tourism,” said President Jair Bolsonaro during a meeting with journalists last month. “We have families here.”

Well, Mr. President, that ship is sailed.

According to Gaydar Nation, an LGBTQ-related website created by consultancy firm QSoft, Brazil is one of the top 10 spots for LGBTQ tourism. The country hosts a plethora of events marketed directly at the community, including several New Year and Carnival parties.[restricted]

Brazil has no less than 180 pride parades every year—with São Paulo’s event alone attracting roughly 3 million tourists and generating over BRL 190 million in revenue for the city every June. Brazil’s worldwide image as a gay-friendly destination has pushed LGBTQ tourism up by 11 percent in 2017—as opposed to a 3.5-percent overall growth for the industry. Every year, there is potentially BRL 420 billion in “pink money”—the term used to refer to the purchasing power of the LGBTQ community— circulating around the country, according to Out Leadership, an international association of companies that develops initiatives for the LGBTQ population.

Same-sex couples are disproportionately DINKs— “double income, no kids”—and LGBTQ tourists spend an average of three times more per capita than their heterosexual counterparts. They travel an average of four times per year and spend twice as long on vacation than is standard. According to data from the U.S. Department of State, 87 percent of this population use travel agencies to plan and execute their trips.

Entrepreneur Fernando Sandes is one of those targeting the segment, having founded LGBTQ entertainment startup Viajay. “When you build a business, you have to research if the market is there. In the case of gay tourism in Brazil, it is.” Traditional brands have taken notice—and are looking for partners to directly cater to this audience. Viajay, for example, has teamed up with Global Study—an agency providing study-abroad experiences—to launch a program focused on providing safe housing for LGBTQ students.

Meanwhile, clothes store Renner and cosmetics giants Natura and O Boticário are examples of market leaders who have independently launched gay-friendly campaigns.

An icon in the making

Brazil has also produced one of the newest global LGBTQ icons: Pabllo Vittar, recently dubbed the “world’s most famous drag queen.” At 24 years old, Vittar has enjoyed international success. In 2019 alone, he closed deals with gay dating app Grindr and NYC Pride Fest—and will play at São Paulo’s Virada Cultural festival this weekend for a fee of BRL 100,000.

In response to Mr. Bolsonaro’s comments on gay tourism, the entertainer told the BBC, “Brazil has been a gay paradise since before I was born.” He went on to say that tourists should still come to Brazil.

“Brazil can’t be the country of gay tourism,” said President Jair Bolsonaro during a meeting with journalists last month. “We have families here.”

Well, Mr. President, that ship is sailed.

According to Gaydar Nation, an LGBTQ-related website created by consultancy firm QSoft, Brazil is one of the top 10 spots for LGBTQ tourism. The country hosts a plethora of events marketed directly at the community, including several New Year and Carnival parties.

Brazil has no less than 180 pride parades every year—with São Paulo’s event alone attracting roughly 3 million tourists and generating over BRL 190 million in revenue for the city every June. Brazil’s worldwide image as a gay-friendly destination has pushed LGBTQ tourism up by 11 percent in 2017—as opposed to a 3.5-percent overall growth for the industry. Every year, there is potentially BRL 420 billion in “pink money”—the term used to refer to the purchasing power of the LGBTQ community— circulating around the country, according to Out Leadership, an international association of companies which develops initiatives for the LGBTQ population.

Same-sex couples are disproportionately DINKs— “double income, no kids”—and LGBTQ tourists spend an average of three times more per capita than their heterosexual counterparts. They travel an average of four times per year and spend twice as long on vacation than is standard. According to data from the U.S. Department of State, 87 percent of this population use travel agencies to plan and execute their trips.

Entrepreneur Fernando Sandes is one of those targeting the segment, having founded LGBTQ entertainment startup Viajay. “When you build a business, you have to research if the market is there. In the case of gay tourism in Brazil, it is.” Traditional brands have taken notice—and are looking for partners to directly cater to this audience. Viajay, for example, has teamed up with Global Study—an agency providing study-abroad experiences—to launch a program focused on providing safe housing for LGBTQ students.

Meanwhile, clothes store Renner and cosmetics giants Natura and O Boticário are examples of market leaders who have independently launched gay-friendly campaigns.

An icon in the making

Brazil has also produced one of the newest global LGBTQ icons: Pabllo Vittar, recently dubbed the “world’s most famous drag queen.” At 24 years old, Vittar has enjoyed international success. In 2019 alone, he closed deals with gay dating app Grindr and NYC Pride Fest—and will play at São Paulo’s Virada Cultural festival this weekend for a fee of BRL 100,000.

In response to Mr. Bolsonaro’s comments on gay tourism, the entertainer told the BBC, “Brazil has been a gay paradise since before I was born.” He went on to say that tourists should still come to Brazil.

pabllo vittar lgbtq tourism
Singer Pabllo Vittar

Is Brazil safe for LGBTQ people?

Safety is a large priority for gay travelers. A 2016 study conducted by Virgin Holidays showed that two-thirds of LGBTQ adults in Great Britain refuse to visit countries perceived to be unwelcoming of the community. Brazil could easily be identified in this group. Every year, the country posts one of the highest numbers of discrimination-related deaths in the world—420 last year, most of them being perpetrated within the victims’ homes, according to NGO Grupo Gay da Bahia.

Like many countries, social realities vary by region. In terms of states, São Paulo has roughly four times the population of Alagoas, but only 40 percent more deaths. Social realities also vary by identity. Trans people and gay men accounted for 84 percent of LGBTQ murders. Curiously, those who identify as both non-white and LGBTQ make up 41.5 percent of homophobia-related killings. Meanwhile, the non-white population accounts for 71.5 percent of Brazil’s overall homicides.

Inside cities, violence levels also vary by neighborhood. A 2017 report by Globo showed that the majority of reported homophobic incidents (not including deaths) in São Paulo occur in the center of the city. Counterintuitively, this may be due to the fact that this area is more gay-friendly. The center is frequented by the LGBTQ population and is home to famous nightlife spot Rua Augusta, as well as Rua Frei Caneca—the city’s “gayest street.” For an incident to be classified as homophobic, the perpetrator is required to have perceived the victim as LGBTQ. As this population may be more open about their sexuality in gay-friendly areas, they could be more at risk.

In the same vein, Brazil is cited as being more dangerous than countries where gay lifestyles are criminalized. Again, this may not reflect a higher level of intolerance but rather an increased risk. Regardless, it remains a fact that there is a higher rate of homophobic violence here than in the 13 countries which still enforce the death penalty for homosexuality.

São Paulo’s Pride Parade, a key event for LGBTQ tourism in Brazil

Where will we go from here?

The sitting administration has departed from decades of advances in LGBTQ rights and protections. President Bolsonaro removed homophobia concerns from the docket of the Human Rights Ministry during his first week in office.

Brazil has registered 141 deaths of LGBTQ people this year, according to Grupo Gay da Bahia. The real numbers, however, are likely to be higher, as the NGO bases its study on what is reported by the press. Despite the data showing that Brazil is one of the most dangerous places for a gay or transgender person to live, levels have also stabilized from last year, suggesting that despite President Bolsonaro’s homophobic rhetoric, his electoral win has not translated into a spike in violence rates (a least not immediately).

Human Rights Minister Damares Alves is another political figure adopting homophobic rhetoric. She recently criticized entertainment for promoting gay relationships. Discussing Disney’s “Frozen” in a video that went viral this month, Ms. Alves pondered whether “[Elsa] is going to wake up Sleeping Beauty with a gay kiss.” She went on to say that little girls should dream of finding Prince Charming, not princesses.

While the president and minister openly discourage LGBTQ rights, the Tourism Ministry and their state-owned firms continue to have specific campaigns for gay tourists. São Paulo’s 23rd pride parade, happening this June, will serve as a metric for gauging which image of Brazil wins out.[/restricted]


Ayahuasca puts Brazil on the shamanic tourism map

When 23-year-old Matheus dos Reis Lima started looking for a vacation spot two years ago, he decided he would bring home something more than just pictures. This time, he was looking for a transformative experience, from which he could achieve a deep connection with himself. Soon after, he embarked on a nine-day trip to Alto do Paraíso, in the Center-West state of Goiás, to take part in a shamanic ritual.

Mr. Lima’s trip is an example of a whole new trend that has gained traction in Brazil, that of “shamanic tourism.” People are increasingly looking for exclusive, unique, and meaningful experiences for their vacations. In this case, when hipsterism meets indigenous culture, the sky is the limit for the industry of selling “experiences.”[restricted]

Shamanism is a ritualistic practice, common in indigenous cultures around the world. During ceremonies, people try to connect with nature and themselves in a sacred way, using music, dancing, smoking herbs, and ingesting natural psychedelic substances. Experts heard by magazine Superinteressante consider it to be a sort of primitive form of religion, that has influenced many faiths, such as Catholicism, Spiritism, and Buddhism.  

To reach altered states of consciousness, shamanic rituals rely on different substances depending on the culture. In South America, many indigenous peoples drink a tea called “ayahuasca,” a beverage prepared with Amazonian plants cipó-mariri and chacrona.

The beverage contains dimethyltryptamine (DMT), a hallucinogenic substance classified as a schedule I substance in the U.S., alongside cannabis, LSD, and heroin, according to the U.S. 
Drug Enforcement Administration.

This status has led to the prohibition of ayahuasca in several countries, including France and Canada. However, it did not prevent tourists from flocking to the Amazon rainforest looking for a spiritual experience. While Peru is already a world-famous destination for shamanic rituals, Brazil is narrowing the gap to the top of the list. The country legally allows the use of ayahuasca for religious ceremonies—which led to the creation of two religious groups, Centro Espírita Beneficente União do Vegetal (UDV) and Santo Daime, which kickstarted a booming tourism sector around the country.

ayahuasca drums
Shamanic drums before ayahuasca ceremony. Photo: Shutterstock

When rituals meet vacations

In Alto Paraíso de Goiás, a 220-kilometer ride north of Brasília, nature is the biggest spectacle. The city is the entrance to the Chapada dos Veadeiros national park—a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the most beautiful destinations in the country. The landscape is formed by high plateaus, from which more than 120 waterfalls descend into the cerrado vegetation under the bright tropical sun.

The area is quite remote, with little access to internet and far from big cities. Traditionally, Chapada dos Veadeiros is a hot spot for ecotourism, but thanks to its natural vibe it also attracts plenty of religious groups for meditation sessions, spiritual retreats, and rituals. The area is now home to a booming lodging industry focused on offering wellness and spiritual experiences.

Mr. Lima took part in one of those experiences, provided by the bed and breakfast where he was staying. After days of preparation—the process required bodily “cleansing” for around one week before the event—he joined the ayahuasca ritual under the supervision of a pajé, the Brazilian name for a shaman.  

“It was a deeply introspective process. I went to ceremonies filled with indigenous traditions for seven days to prepare my body and soul for the ritual; on the eighth day, I took ayahuasca. It is hard to put into words how I felt, but it was a wonderful feeling of being completely part of nature and the Earth itself,” recalls Mr. Lima.

The experience is not always so smooth, however. Many people experience violent vomiting or diarrhea after drinking the beverage, some even faint. For enthusiasts, it is all part of a purifying experience, but the benefits or damages caused by beverage are yet to be comprehensively assessed.  

Pharmacologist Rodrigo Guabiraba told the Estado de Minas newspaper that among the effects may be “post-use depression, just like LSD. Abuse undoubtedly may lead to permanent depression and disorders in susceptible individuals, such as schizophrenics, but it does not necessarily cause addiction.”

Brazilian researches, however, found out harmine—another component of ayahuasca—may stimulate the proliferation of human neural cells. In rodents, traditional antidepressants reverse the symptoms of depression by stimulating neuronal proliferation, they said, as part of a scientific paper.   

University of São Paulo researchers studied ayahuasca’s potential to fight depression: half of the volunteers who tried it felt relief in the symptoms over the following days, while only 10 percent of those who took the placebo had comparable experiences. The results are similar to another study, held by Brazil’s Federal University of Rio Grande do Norte.

Ayahuasca: Traditions, faith, and tourists

As ayahuasca gets more popular, it starts to reach new audiences. To meet the booming demand, psychologist Luciano Alves, who works with human development experiences and promotes retreats to shamanic destinations, is preparing a New Year‘s Eve retreat in Itatiba, a city just 94 kilometers away from São Paulo.

He expects to see Brazilians, as well as people from the U.S., Russia, Europe, and South America, join him on his five-day retreat, intended as a search for personal development and a connection with nature. There, they will be allowed to take part in ayahuasca ceremonies performed by shamans, but under supervision.

“We like to be extra careful, interviewing the people first, to find out if they have any kind of previous pathologies—such as depression—as it could lead to collateral effects,” he explained to The Brazilian Report.

According to him, ceremonies are performed by people with expertise and, nowadays, the consumption of ayahuasca is more connected to religious practices than the indigenous culture itself. “They’ve learned from the indigenous and now perform it themselves. I would say that for each indigenous person performing ayahuasca ceremonies, there are ten other non-indigenous people doing it.”

Sharing traditional indigenous rituals with the general public has always been a source of controversy. Although this kind of visits could be a potential source of income to these communities, there may be issues regarding predatory tourism and cultural appropriation.

In Peru, where shamanic tourism has become a profitable industry, there are also many reported cases of charlatanism. More than being disrespectful to traditional cultures, performing ceremonies without preparation, by people who are just interested in the money, may pose a danger to the general public, putting the authorities in a difficult position, recalls anthropologist Jean-Loup Amselle.  

When it comes to respecting tradition and visiting local tribes, Funai, the official agency of indigenous affairs in Brazil, says there are open interpretations about it, but ultimately, it is up to the indigenous community to establish the rules.      

“There is not one single perception about having non-indigenous people present during indigenous rituals. However, this choice must be made by indigenous people themselves, evaluating the risks and advantages of allowing access to their land, as well as establishing rules to be followed by the visitors”, said Funai in an emailed statement to The Brazilian Report.[/restricted]


Eco-luxury tourism blossoms in Brazil, but the model still needs to find its way

Brazil is already known for its natural beauty, but now it seems the tourism industry wants to put a luxury twist on its most prized asset. The eco-friendly hotel industry is growing in the country, bringing the challenge to develop these spaces in a truly sustainable way, taking into account the welfare of the environment, the local communities, and a profitable business model.  

The eco-luxury segment, which was previously more connected to destinations such as the Pantanal and the Amazon rainforest, has spread all over in the country—in large part propelled by foreign investors and tourists. According to Senac university’s Hospitality, Sustainability and Business professor Fernando Kanni, this industry benefits from a global trend in the search for exclusivity and authenticity.[restricted]

“The scale of visitors in these places is not proportional to the influx to some cities abroad and that’s why it feels more exclusive. Aligning this to sustainable management make these destinations competitive in a global environment,” he says.

Brazil’s unparalleled biodiversity, one of the richest in the world, makes it a top destination for those who are already connected to ecotourism. Also, in a broader sense, Brazil has an unfulfilled potential for tourism which presents an opportunity for growth. Data from the World Tourism Organization show Brazil is behind fellow developing countries Mexico and Thailand in number of tourists, nevermind European hotspots such as France and Spain.

According to journalist Ana Duék, editor of the website Viajar Verde, considered one of the best digital influencers in the segment by the International Travel and Tourism Awards, this “unknown” status also reflects the advertising policies promoted by the government, traditionally focused in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the Northeastern areas. She believes, however, that Brazilians are slowly keeping up with foreigners when it comes to discovering new top destinations in the country.

Tourist Boat Navigating On Murky Amazon Water In Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
Tourist boat navigating on murky Amazon water in wildlife reserve

One of the biggest pushes for the industry is coming from the private sector. For example, Brazil’s Luxury Travel Association includes 31 hotels, where the vast majority have some sort of eco-friendly certificate or sustainable activities. The group even hosts a prize, the Sustainable Vision Award, for the most innovative projects in the field. Another project, Coletivo Muda, is focusing on bringing attention to sustainable tourism.

This year, the Cristalino Lodge was among the finalists. The hotel, located in Alta Floresta, in the countryside of Mato Grosso, protects a natural conservation area of 44 square miles of forests and maintains the Cristalino Foundation. The organization develops “initiatives geared to environmental education, human development, creating economic alternatives for the local population, minimizing environmental impacts, research, and sustainability in the region”, as seen on its website.

Another example of eco-luxury enterprise in an off-the-grid location is Pousada Trijunção, a lodge located in the middle of the Cerrado, Brazil’s tropical savannah-like region. The property spans three different states—Bahia, Minas Gerais, and Goiás—and provides several environmental activities for tourists, such as birdwatching and guided bike tours. They also breed wild animals, such as tortoises and birds, for their future reintroduction into nature.

What do these hotels have in common, besides their exotic locations? They look to provide experiences that go beyond the “saving water, light, and using fewer towels” approach that many people still consider as the main pillars of ecotourism. The modern approach to luxury ecotourism, recalls Ms. Duék, is much more about trying to balance the environment and the project, without forgetting the local communities.

“The first concern must be the local community. You are occupying their area. Are they integrated into your project in any way? This doesn’t have to be by direct jobs, it can also be done indirectly, such as taking tourists to shop at local stores.”

It is important to keep an eye on the difference between ecotourism and predatory tourism, especially when it comes to interacting with wildlife. Last year, the Federal Prosecution Office recommended hotels in the state of Amazonas not let tourists interact with wild animals in the Amazon rainforest, especially if they pay for it. If not done with the proper authorizations, this may be considered a crime, as well as posing a threat to the environment and the safety of tourists.   

Eco-luxury tourism: in search of balance

The paradise of Fernando de Noronha is considered a hot spot for “luxury-meets-green” tourism. The archipelago, located about 500 kilometers off Brazil’s coast, is a common travel destination for famous Brazilians, such as soccer star Neymar Jr.

To protect the islands, the tourists must pay a fee of around BRL 70 per day of travel. Regulation is also very strict, with the prohibition of using or selling disposal plastic on the islands, as well as taking any natural material from the wild. Some locations are also closed for research purposes.   

What’s more, the archipelago’s limits are being tested due to high demand. The number of tourists doubled to 100,000 a year in ten years, while the management plan of the islands stipulates a maximum of 89 thousand. The government of Pernambuco stipulates 104 thousand people as the limit and is increasing the number of tourists to the islands. The bigger influx is causing queues and time limits in some attractions, as well as more serious troubles, such as water scarcity, as seen by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo.

Ms. Duék sees Noronha’s tentative to limit visitors as a way to protect it, but raises questions about how sustainable the “glamour” of the archipelago is.

“It is an attempt, but I can’t say this model has tipped the scales. As far as I’m concerned, the locals live in very tough conditions and the island is receiving a different profile of visitor than it welcomed before, tourists that may not be so concerned about the environment,” says the journalist. “Around the world, we are seeing the phenomenon of ‘overtourism,’ bringing tourists that are not necessarily concerned about protecting the environment they are visiting. These destinations must ask themselves, ‘is it worth it?’”

For Fernando Kanni, protected areas pose a bigger challenge for tourism, as these kinds of environments are often more fragile. However, finding the balance is crucial to create a better form of development. “Without a quality experience, the enterprise is in danger and without the enterprise, social and environmental opportunities are lost.”[/restricted]


Brazilian music festivals you should know about

In 1985, the image of an enormous crowd singing “Love of My Life” to an emotional Freddie Mercury during the first Rock in Rio put Brazil on the map of the world’s biggest—and most vibrant—music festivals. But beyond super productions such as Rock in Rio and Lollapalooza, the country offers a wide range of experiences for Brazilian and international music lovers.

Following the tradition, Brazilian festivals are a way for the people to engage, to demonstrate their political views and to celebrate. But, unlike the mega concerts focused on bringing foreign names to the country, festivals such as Bananada, João Rock and Meca aim to encourage national productions, presenting line ups filled with famous stars and new artists. Indeed, they end up boosting the career of names that, nowadays, are the core of Brazilian indie music scene or shine even in mainstream pop. Find more about them below:[restricted]

Bananada Festival


Twenty-one years ago a group of friends decided to play rock in Goiania, a midwestern city that, unlike Brasília—Brazil’s rock-oriented capital—is dominated by sertanejo, Brazil’s answer to country music. The result is the Bananada Festival, a unique option for those willing to know more about Brazilian culture outside the Rio de Janeiro-São Paulo axis.

“Rock is Bananadas’s spine. Saying Bananada is only about rock is a misstep, but saying it isn’t about rock is a huge mistake,” said Bananadas organizer Fabrício Nobre in an interview with Vice.

Bananada never let go of its rock origins but, as it grew in size and relevance, its stages become more and more diverse; now it is a microcosm of the Brazilian music scene, bringing together famous and new artists in a week dedicated to music and culture.

Trough its editions, the festival hosted names as varied as national idol and former Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil, to drag queen and Brazilian pop princess Pabllo Vittar, as well as the Queens of Stone Age star Nick Olivieri and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo, and plenty of Latin American stars.

In spite of opening up, Bananada kept its focus on encouraging indie rock bands from Goiania that now are known in Brazil and abroad, such as Boogarins and Carne Doce. Other icons of Brazilian new indie scene—such as Far From Alaska, Francisco El Hombre, and Terno Rei— also performed there.

In 2019, Bananada will take place from August 12 to August 18 and will have rapper Criolo and pop artist Tulipa Ruiz will be the headliners. The festival will also host Portuguese band Paus and Colombian band Frente Cumbiero on the international frontline.

João Rock

joao rock

This is another festival that has rock and roll in its very DNA. Created in 2002 in the city of Ribeirão Preto, an agribusiness hub deep in São Paulo state, the festival is named after three famous rock drummers: John (or João, in Portuguese) Densmore, from The Doors, John Bonham, from Led Zeppelin, and João Barone, from Brazilian band Paralamas do Sucesso. Even today, the festival has one of the most rock-oriented line ups of Brazil, but has opened up space for different rhythms, such as hip hop.

The festival benefits from the college vibes of Ribeirão Preto—home to a University of São Paulo campus—and attracts plenty of young people from the entire country. Indeed, the audience is never short of stamina to enjoy over 12 hours of concerts, skate parks, garage band contests and other surprises the festival’s sponsors provide.

Surprises are actually another trademark of João Rock. As it prioritizes Brazilian rock bands, the festival has an entire stage dedicated to new artists and it is not rare that the headliners, who are often good friends, perform unexpected live collaborations.

Among these remarkable partnerships, Herbert Viana, lead vocalist of Paralamas do Sucesso, and Dinho Ouro Preto, the frontman of Capital Inicial, two of the most popular Brazilian rock bands from the eighties, gathered in 2003 to pay homage to Renato Russo, the late leader of the iconic band Legião Urbana. Four years later, Os Mutantes, the first Brazilian rock band, and Caetano Veloso, Brazilian popular music idol, were a hit. In 2011, a tribute to Bob Marley gathered the Brazilians Fernando Badauí, from rock group CPM22, Alexandre Carlo, from reggae group Natiruts, Rogério Flausino, from pop-rock band Jota Quest, and Logan Bell, from the New Zealand band Katchafire.

This year, João Rock will take place on June 15 and, in keeping with the tradition, it will honor the rock tradition from Brasília. Besides, the line up is already exciting fans with another promising collab: Rael and Emicida, two of Brazil’s biggest rappers, will share the stage with Brazilian hip hop pioneer Mano Brown in what promises to be one of the great moments of the festival.


meca inhotim

MECA Festival went beyond the music to become a cultural experience and platform. The event had its first edition in Porto Alegre, the capital of Rio Grande do Sul state, back in 2010. Now, the team hosts festivals in five Brazilian states, plus monthly pocket events on the group’s headquarters in São Paulo and editorial content productions all year round.

Their idea is to provide its guests with a holistic experience. That’s why the events always take place at iconic Brazilian sites, such as the Urca hill, in Rio de Janeiro, and Oficina Brennand, a museum in Recife dedicated to the work of Brazilian sculptor Francisco Brennand created in an old brick factory. Its flagship event is the MECAInhotim festival, at Instituto Inhotim, the biggest open-air museum in the world.

This year, MECAInhotim will host Brazilian artists Gilberto Gil, Céu, Duda Beat, MC Tha, and Castello Branco, alongside three parties, guided visits to the museum and TED-style talks from May 17 to May 19. But, besides all these activities, this year’s festival will also be embracing sustainability, said MECA’s head of Content, Felipe Seffrin, to The Brazilian Report.

Inhotim is close to the town of Brumadinho, which was hit by the worst environmental disaster in Brazil’s history after a tailings dam owned by mining company Vale burst in January, killing more than 220 people and leaving about 100 hundred missing. The MECA team has even released the fundraising project PróBrumadinho to foster the reconstruction and sustainable development of Brumadinho after the disaster.

The remaining festivals are scheduled to take place at São Paulo (in July), Recife (in September), Porto Alegre (in November)m and Rio de Janeiro (in December or January 2020). According to Mr. Seffrin, they will be part of an innovative partnership with global trend consultancy WGSN.

“These festivals will be called MECAWGSN. There will be conferences based on the trends WGSN studies, as well as talks and workshops. We will invite several people and we want to have music attraction connected to these trends, like emotional design,” he said.

Those willing to keep up with MECA may sign up to their newsletter, or read their own newspaper, about art, music, and culture. They also host free pocket events once in a month in their headquarters in São Paulo, “We always bring indie bands, lots of artists that are starting to show up. It’s a way to strengthen ties with our public.” According to Mr. Seffrin, the festival intends to grow even further, but always gradually, to ensure the quality of experiences it provides.[/restricted]


Will visa exemptions really boost tourism in Brazil?

As President Jair Bolsonaro prepares to meet with his American counterpart Donald Trump, Brazil has decided to lift visa requirements for citizens from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan. The move is unilateral—that is, it doesn’t require reciprocity from these countries, breaking with a long tradition in Brazilian diplomacy.

The measure is the latest chapter in a long-term demand by the Minister of Tourism, which argues that fewer visa requirements will translate into more tourists—thus bringing more revenue and business to Brazil. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has defended the principle of reciprocity throughout multiple administrations. The country has always required a visa from citizens of nations that demand Brazilians apply for visas themselves. That is, until now.[restricted]

Brazil’s new Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araújo, says the country has changed its stance in order to strengthen economic and diplomatic ties with the U.S. “There was a shift in how we do foreign policy here. Waiving visas fits into this context, but this measure could have been put on the table as part of broader negotiations, perhaps requiring some gesture in return,” says political scientist Maurício Santoro.

“[The measure] places Brazil in a position of weakness before the U.S., as there is no sign that they are willing to do the same. I believe this was a hasty gesture.”

Beefing up an incipient tourism industry

Luring Americans into vacationing in Brazil is not only a matter of ideology. A study by the Ministry of Tourism and a private think tank showed that between 2013 and 2017, Americans comprised the second-largest group of tourists in Brazil, behind only visitors from neighboring Argentina. However, there are fewer Americans coming now than in there were 2013—despite Brazil having hosted mega-events such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics in the meantime.

Among the top 10 nationalities which visit Brazil every year, only Americans need (or needed) a visa.

brazil visa policies tourism

Brazil had already tried to cut down bureaucracy for Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Japanese tourists by creating the so-called electronic visa last year. According to the government’s estimates, the move increased visa applications by 35.2 percent. The Ministry of Tourism projects that if all visas granted were converted into trips, Brazil would then have received 217,858 additional tourists in 2018—an impact of USD 1 billion. Embratur, the Brazilian agency of tourism promotion, foresees an increase of 25 percent of tourists as a result of the latest visa exemptions.

Why isn’t Brazil a tourist hot spot?

While the world is traveling more than ever, Brazil’s tourism industry has been stagnant since the late 1990s. And 94 percent of tourism-related revenue comes from Brazilian tourists who travel within the country—not from foreigners. This is despite Brazil being one of the most postcard-perfect countries in the globe.

But Mr. Santoro points out that bureaucracy is not the real issue. “Broader issues play a large role, such as violence, our lack of infrastructure, and a poorly-trained workforce that lacks English proficiency. I think that this measure will have little impact.”

In 2017, Paulo Rabello de Castro, a former president of Brazil’s National Development Bank, also claimed that security problems have a devastating effect on tourism. Mr. Castro argued that violence in post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro—paired with the worst recession in Brazilian history—has led to pedestrian tourism numbers. “The issue of tourism is linked to security. The issue began to take on a federal dimension,” he says. “I think we’re still behind in this game.”

Celso Amorim, Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Lula administration, also does not see visa requirements as a true roadblock for fostering Brazilian tourism, nor does he believe this latest measure will help it. “I lived in the U.S. twice, and I never met a businessman or a common person who said they tried to go to Brazil but the visa [process] was so complicated that they gave up,” Mr. Amorim told The Brazilian Report.

Room for improvement

Brazil’s tourism sector entities have shown optimism about the visa exemptions but highlighted the need for other actions to further boost tourism.

Magda Nassar, acting president of the Brazilian Travel Agencies Association (Abav) believes the measure will help attract tourists and investments to Brazil. However, other measures are still necessary, such as “increasing the offer of flights outside of the Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo axis and developing new tourism products. We’re still very focused on the beach segment but there are more options with great potential to attract foreigners,” she told The Brazilian Report.

She also believes that major sporting events (such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games) helped foster interest in Brazil, but that security is still a major concern for foreigners who wish to visit.

FecomercioSP, the association that represents trade, services and the tourism sector in the state of São Paulo, estimates that the number of American tourists in Brazil may grow fourfold after the visa exemptions come into force, leading to an increase of consumption of BRL 6.4 billion per year.   

However, this projection will only be reached with “coherent public policies and understanding the dynamics of different markets.” In a statement, the association claims it is necessary to “think about clear strategies to combat violence, improve infrastructure and teach foreign languages to qualify the workforce.”[/restricted]


Brazil gets its very own Golden Visa

Since its creation in 2012, the Portuguese Golden Visa has been a much sought-after document for wealthy Brazilians. The program, which grants Portuguese residency to people who invest in property in the country, has given 561 Brazilians (as of mid-2018) the right to live in Europe. Now, a new rule will extend a similar benefit to foreigners investing in real estate in Brazil.

On the back of the new Migration Law which came into force at the end of 2017, the Ministry of Labor has instated a new residence visa route for foreigners. People investing at least BRL 1 million (approximately USD 260,000) in Brazilian real estate will be given the right to reside in the country—the minimum amount is as low as BRL 700,000 in the North and Northeast of Brazil.[restricted]

Upon making the investment (which only applies to urban and not rural property), foreigners must live in Brazil for 30 days and then will be granted a two-year provisional residency visa. If by the end of this period the property is still owned by the foreigner and is in a good state of conservation, the visa becomes permanent.

Once the foreign investor has spent four years as a resident, he or she then becomes eligible for naturalization and can obtain a Brazilian passport. The measure is an attempt to both attract more foreign investment and stimulate Brazil’s stricken property market. While not identical to Portugal’s Golden Visa program, it is certainly heavily influenced by it.

Speaking to Brazilian newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, Hugo Gallo da Silva, president of the National Immigration Council, talked up the program’s capacity to help the construction and real estate sectors. “It’s an attempt to make immigration an easier alternative to raise investments for Brazil and facilitate the stays of people who want to live in the country,” he said.

Portugal’s Golden Visa Law

Beginning in 2012, Portugal’s Golden Visa program resulted in an approximate EUR 3.32 billion of investment into the country as of 2017. Brazil is the country with the second-highest number of applicants for the permit—with Portugal’s attraction being explained by the lack of a language barrier and the existence of ancestral ties with the country. The undisputed leader of Golden Visa applications, however, comes from China, with almost eight times as many investors obtaining residency.

Unlike the Brazilian visa, Portugal’s program requires that foreigners either purchase property worth more than EUR 500,000, or property built over 30 years ago worth more than EUR 350,000. The permit itself lasts for five years.

New Migration Law

The new visa option comes as a result of Brazil’s new Migration Law, which was signed into effect in 2017 by President Michel Temer. The legislation replaced the Foreigner’s Statute and was praised for its advance in human rights and rectification of provisions which were criticized in the old law, enacted during the military dictatorship.

The new law institutionalized temporary humanitarian visas and removed old provisions which regarded immigrants as threats to national security.

Foreigners in Brazil are now allowed to participate in political manifestations and take part in trade unions, scrapping a paranoid old rule from the dictatorship which feared the entry of foreign “subversives.”

Controversially, President Michel Temer vetoed an amnesty for foreigners who entered the country before July 2016. The last such amnesty took place in 2009.[/restricted]


Why aren’t tourists flocking to Brazil?

Why aren’t tourists flocking to Brazil?
Tourists in Rio. Photo: Fernando Frazão/ABr

From Rio de Janeiro’s beaches to the breathtaking Iguaçu Falls, Brazil is a land that lends itself well to tourism. Or so it would seem. Each year, Brazil attracts just 6 million tourists – and most of them come from our neighboring countries. And while the world is now traversing the globe like never before, Brazil has not joined in on the party. Our tourism industry has been stagnating since the late 1990s.

Despite being blessed with some of the world’s most diverse ecosystems, Brazil attracts fewer tourists than Miami alone. Even the Eiffel Tower upper deck draws more people than Latin America’s largest country. Why is this?

Paulo Rabello de Castro, president of Brazil’s National Development Bank, has an explanation. Using data from the Brazilian Institute for Geography and Statistics (IBGE) and Rio de Janeiro’s Public Security Institute (ISP), Castro claimed that security problems have a devastating effect on tourism. Castro argued that increased violence in post-Olympic Rio, combined with the continued effects of the economic crisis, has led to a fall in investments and job losses within the sector. “The issue of tourism is linked to security. The issue began to take on a federal dimension,” he says. “I think we’re still losing the game.”

Rio de Janeiro in particular, with its postcard vistas and service-heavy economy, is already feeling the effects of a slump from the tourism industry. However, general competitiveness seems to be harming the industry more than security issues. Research from the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual World Tourism Competitiveness Index, published in April, actually showed that the industry has been slowly growing over the last decade. In 2007, the WEF ranked Brazil’s tourism industry 59th out of 136 in the world, while today it sits at 27th.

Low competitiveness hurts tourism in Brazil

While the WEF doesn’t exactly give Brazil’s public security situation glowing reviews – we were ranked at 106th – it does maintain that a lack of competitiveness posed a greater threat to the industry. The report assesses that “over the past two years, the security and business contexts have worsened further, counterbalancing the positive effects of increased price competitiveness”.

Among the WEF’s concerns are a deteriorating business environment due to legal inefficiency, red tape and high taxes, along with the cost of maintaining qualified labor, customer care personnel, and a lack of government investment in the sector. The WEF also advocates for greater protection for Brazil’s biodiversity, which would protect some of the country’s most appealing destinations.

“While some efforts have been made to reduce particulate matter emissions and to curb deforestation, progress made in 2014 has been neutralized by resumption in logging activity in 2015,” the report notes. “At the same time the stringency of environmental standards has declined recently, suggesting that more has to be done to protect the assets that primarily drive tourists into the country.”

The government hasn’t done its part

During Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s presidency, Brazil enjoyed an unparalleled era of positive notoriety. While Lula benefited from the commodity boom of the last decade, he also made serious efforts to increase Brazil’s soft power. And for the first time in history, the country had a multi-year tourism plan in place. But Lula’s drive was discontinued by his successor, Dilma Rousseff.

During the Lula years, Brazil was given the right to host the 2016 Olympics and the World Cup in 2014. But the country didn’t do its branding homework, trusting that the games alone would prompt tourists to flock to our cities. For the Olympics, the only impactful action taken was the temporary suspension of visa requirements for tourists coming from Australia, Japan, Canada, and the United States. But even that was met with resistance from the government.

While the Ministry of Tourism is fighting to loosen visa policies – which would make it easier for tourists to come – the Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes that Brazil’s visa regulations should continue to be reciprocal. It means that Brazil requires tourist visas from countries where Brazilians are required to have one.

“Facilitating travel measures such as with visa waivers can generate up to a 25 percent increase in the flow of destinations involved,” said Marx Beltrão, Brazil’s Minister of Tourism, earlier this year. “We projected revenues of up to $450 million with this measure within two years.”

Crime remains a concern

But within Rio de Janeiro, rather than across the whole industry, tourism sector professionals are particularly worried about what rising crime might do to businesses. A study from the National Confederation of Merchandise, Services, and Tourism (CNC), published in July this year, revealed some worrying implications from tourism’s decline in Brazil’s typical hotspot.

brazil tourists crime
Photo: Fernando Frazão/ABr

The study shows that Rio’s tourism sector recorded losses of R$320 million over the first four months of 2017, in comparison to the same period in 2016. This represents a 42 percent decline and has had a serious impact on both revenues and employment across the state. Bars and restaurants had the most significant losses, while transport and travel agencies also recorded large declines in revenue.

The CNC believes that this is related to Rio’s spike in crime rates. For each 10 percent increase in crime, the study estimates that the gross revenue of companies in the tourism sector declines by an average of 1.8 percent. Moreover, the CNC argues, losses for businesses catering to tourists, including restaurants, bars, and car rental agencies, are most affected by the increases in crime.

While tourists are often not the direct victims of crime, the CNC’s research says, increases in crime decrease confidence in public security and influence tourists’ decisions when it comes to planning trips. “Violence affects tourism because it dilutes the image of Rio de Janeiro, and Brazilians themselves do not want to visit Rio anymore,” says Alexandre Sampaio, the Council’s head of tourism and hospitality. “This is a perverse reality, amplified by the economic crisis of the country and the state. And the impact of tourism … is reflected in more than 50 segments of the economy.”

And the decline is crippling local industries, according to unemployment statistics from Rio’s General Register of Employed and Unemployed (CAGED). Over the first five months of 2017, Brazil registered a cumulative loss of 8,833 formal jobs within the sector – 75 percent more than in the same period during 2016. While some losses might be expected in the year following the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, those within the industry believe that security is the root cause of local industry decline.

“Security is the basis of everything,” Orlando Diniz, president of Rio state’s business federation, told the audience at BNDES’s conference. “With security, we will have more companies, more jobs, more taxes being paid and more revenue.”