Brazil tourism: forget the gringos
Take a stroll down Copacabana Beach these days, or talk to hotel workers around Rio, and it’s clear that the tourist industry in Brazil is doing just fine. But it’s not the stereotypical sunburnt gringos that are powering the sector. Almost all of the growth is coming from Brazilians travelling around their own country.
Last year, 95 per cent of travel and tourism revenue came from locals. Foreigners only accounted for 5 per cent, making Brazil’s tourism sector one of the world’s least international. (In nearby Peru, one of Latin America’s up-and-coming tourist destinations, foreigners account for around 30 per cent of spending.)
According to data from the World Travel & Tourism Council, local spending has been growing faster than foreign contributions over the past four years. Domestic tourism spend grew by 6.5 per cent in 2011 to US$130bn.
“Around the world, the rough average is two thirds domestic spending and one third foreign,” says David Scowscill, CEO of the WTTC. “The outliers are the BRIC countries, especially Brazil and China, where members of the new middle classes are starting to travel for the first time, mostly within their own countries,” he says.
But not even the world’s biggest country has numbers as skewed as Brazil. In China, foreigners make up 11.9 per cent of spending.
The Brazilian government’s numbers tell the same story. From 2005 to 2010, the number of domestic trips increased from 139m to 186m, while the number of tourist arrivals stayed constant at just over 5m.
It’s surely no coincidence that in the same period, Brazil has gotten much more expensive for foreigners, while millions of Brazilians have risen out of poverty.
Despite the prospects of the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympic Games in 2016, it’s the rise of the Brazilian middle class that is keeping things going for now.
On the beaches of Rio or the bars and restaurants of São Paulo, it’s not uncommon to meet someone from Pernambuco, Maranhão, or Minas Gerais who has saved up to see their own country’s famous sights for the first time.
The total travel and tourism sector has grown in step with the rest of the economy, to R$131.5bn ($72bnUSD) in 2011, according to the WTTC. But the amount of travel in and out of Brazil is stagnant, says Scowscill. This is not only because of the global downturn, but because of infrastructure limitations, especially at airports, and visa issues, he says.
Then there is the price. No matter how many times they are told, foreigners are shocked to find Rio and São Paulo are more expensive than London.
Of course, this is what has been happening recently in the Brazilian economy more generally. More and more, with the exception of commodities, Brazilian industries are finding that their exports are suffering because of the real’s appreciation and are turning to the domestic consumer to pick up the slack.