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Stranded: miles of beaches but no easy way to get there. Brazil's tourism business needs a break.

What more could a destination want? Eight thousand kilometers of coastline. The biggest river on the planet. A continent-sized area with geography ranging from rain forests to mountains to plains.

But somehow it's not enough. Despite all Brazil has to offer, the country has not yet begun to lair its potential as one of the world's premier tourist destinations.

The reasons are many. The sheer size of the country makes many of its would-be hot spots harder to get to than, say, a beach on the Yucatan or an island in the Caribbean. But what really holds the country back is a lack of development and promotion of its tourism potential.

The government, for instance, until recently did little to advertise the country abroad. A sub-par infrastructure network means that getting around the country--a land area bigger than that of the continental United States--is more difficult and expensive than it could be. Airlines service most destinations but prices are still high.

"The potential here is enormous, but the problems are just as big," says Juan Carlos Marin, director of InterCont Viagens & Turismo, a Rio de Janeiro travel agency. "Until it gets easier to travel here, we'll keep losing tourists to the Caribbean and other low-cost destinations."

Brazil last year lured more than 4 million foreign visitors, an increase of 8% from the year before, according to government statistics. But tiny Puerto Rico, in comparison, last year lured more than 3 million to its shores.

Four million is a long way from the volume of visitors that the world's top tourist destinations attract. France, for example, regularly draws more than 70 million visitors a year. The United States, despite the drop in tourist arrivals since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, registers an average of 40 million visitors per year.

If Brazil wants to begin catching up with the world's tourism leaders, industry executives say, it must go on a marketing offensive.

Their pleas have already had some success. Upon taking office in 2002, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva designated tourism as one of several strategic sectors that could drive economic growth. In addition to agriculture and manufacturing, the administration expects tourism and other service-sector industries to help fuel new sources of revenue and job creation.

To emphasize the point, the administration created a stand-alone Ministry of Tourism and established clear goals for the sector to reach by 2007, including increasing the number of visitors to 9 million tourists per year; increasing tourism revenues to at least US$8 billion per year (tourists spent $3.4 billion in Brazil in 2003); and creating as many as 1.2 million new jobs.

Many of those goals, the government says, can be accomplished by promoting Brazil in key source markets for tourists--primarily, other Latin American countries, Europe and the United States. To that end, the government this year is funding a $6 million advertising campaign in those markets, targeting the fairs and industry gatherings where travel agents and tour operators learn about the destinations they sell.

Political will. What's more, the administration increased funding for Embratur, the tourism board responsible for promoting Brazil in other countries, to $11.2 million in 2004 from $1.6 million last year. "There is finally real political will to make tourism become one of the drivers of the economy," says Eduardo Sanovicz, president of Embratur. "The government realizes that we can really help the economy if we learn how to lure more people to Brazil."

Given the new commitment by the government to support: the sector, companies say they already feel more optimistic. The ministry, they say, has established a dialogue with the private sector to find out what in addition to marketing can be done to help it meet the administration's goals. "The perspectives for growth are brighter because the government is getting a lot of feedback from private companies on what's necessary," says Luiz Carlos Nunes, president of the Brazilian Hotel Industry Association.

But air travel in Brazil remains costly for most--especially if the industry hopes to stimulate more travel within the country among Brazilians themselves. And efforts by new entrants in the sector to lower fares have had mixed success.

Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes, one of the newest carriers in Brazil, quickly became the country's third-biggest airline by competing with lower prices than those of established companies like TAM and Varig. But efforts to drop the fares even further have prompted charges of unfair competition from its rivals. After complaints by other airlines, a promotional fare it offered in May--$16 to 27 different destinations around Brazil--was prohibited by the government because Gol could not immediately prove that the fare was not lower than its operating costs.

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Title Annotation:Tourism
Comment:Stranded: miles of beaches but no easy way to get there.
Author:Prada, Paulo
Publication:Latin Trade
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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