The Washington Diplomat (800 words)
By Larry Luxner
NEW YORK — Brazil's state-run tourism entity, Embratur, has chosen New York for the site of its first U.S. tourism office, as part of efforts by President Luiz Ignacio da Silva to lure nine million foreign visitors to Brazil annually by 2007.
Embratur already has branches in Frankfurt, Lisbon, London, Paris and Milan, with a sixth Embratur office in Europe to open by year's end in Madrid. The New York office, located at 36 West 44th St., was inaugurated Sept. 9 by Embtratur President Eduardo Sanovicz. Its three-person staff will be headed by Alexandre Raulino, a former board member of the Rio Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"The idea of this office is not to attend to the general public, but to enhance the abilities of travel agents and tour operators to give attention to their customers," said Sanovicz. "We know we have serious competition, and we're aware of our problems."
He noted that U.S. tourist arrivals to Brazil increased by 12% last year despite stringent new restrictions that, among other things, require Americans to pay $100 for Brazilian tourist visas.
According to Embratur, 4.09 million foreigners visited Brazil last year, an 8.12% increase over the 3.78 million who came in 2002; arrivals so far this year are running nearly 16% ahead of 2003 figures. In 2002, foreign tourists spent $3.12 billion in Brazil, jumping by 8.5% to $3.39 billion 2003. During the first half of 2004, tourists spent $1.84 billion — a 40% jump over the same period a year ago.
In March 2004 alone, foreign tourists spent $308 million in Brazil, the highest since Brazil's Central Bank began keeping such records in 1969.
But perhaps the most significant increase is in the number of charters. Some 178,000 passengers flew to Brazil on charter flights during the first seven months of 2004, up 120% over the 81,000 who came during the same period in 2003.
"Our goals is to get one million Americans a year within three years," up from the current 650,000 or so, said Sanovicz. He added that Americans spend an average of $106.56 a day while on holiday or business travel in Brazil — more than any nationality.
Brazil is also trying to attract more international trade shows, and seems to be succeeding in this regard. Embratur has formed a department to deal exclusively with events tourism and has managed to confirm 40 trade shows for this year, up from 36 in 2003 and 16 in previous years.
"The most important product for export in tourism is the quality of our cultural diversity in music, art and handicrafts," Sanovicz said during a press conference announcing the new office. "This has nothing to do with political correctness. We have wonderful beaches, but you can find the same in 100 countries. But nobody nowhere can add to the beach, the result of 500 years of history that Brazil has."
To accommodate more foreign visitors, the Brazilian government several years ago embarked on a long-range program to upgrade all of the country's international airports, as well as two domestic airports: Rio de Janeiro's Santos Dumont and São Paulo's Congonhas. The $7 billion program began in 1998 and is now concluding with the inauguration of completely renovated passenger terminals in Recife, Maceio, São Luis and Natal.
Sanovicz said that Latin America continues to be Brazil's most important source of tourism, though lingering economic problems in Argentina and Uruguay have hurt tourist arrivals from those countries.
He also conceded that the visa requirement for Americans is a hassle.
"We know about the visa situation, and everybody is aware of it, but it was the United States that decided to charge us for visas and fingerprint us. Whether I agree or not doesn't matter. A lot of people are working to overcome that."
Julio César Gomes dos Santos, the Brazilian consul-general in New York, disagreed that Brazil's stringent visa rules are keeping Americans away, noting that thousands of U.S. citizens travel to Cuba for sun, sex and salsa music every year, even though such travel is a serious violation of U.S. law.
"We must improve our infrastructure and lure the Americans with other advantages," he said. "We don't have terrorism, we don't have hurricanes and we don't have earthquakes. Believe me, the visa requirement is not a problem." - END -