BRAZIL MAY BE THE HOTTEST DESTINATION IN LATIN AMERICA RIGHT NOW—and we're not referring to its long summer season. Agents and operators have said that an aggressive marketing campaign by Embratur (www.braziltour.com), Brazil's tourism board, has encouraged North Americans to discover the joys of a trip to South America's largest country.
Last year, 763,000 American tourists booked trips there and Embratur projects that number to grow to 1.2 million by 2010, when new flights have been added. "North Americans are getting more and more interested in knowing new and different destinations where they can find exciting culture, history, landscape and diversified cuisine. Brazil offers all that," Jeanine Pires, president of Embratur, says. "I believe an appealing currency, the election of Christ the Redeemer as one of the new Seven Wonders of the Modern World and the advertising campaign we are conducting right now are some of the reasons Brazil is becoming more and more popular.
"Aside from these aspects," she continues, "travel agents have to keep in mind that Brazil is a unique destination due to its natural and cultural diversity, along with its very hospitable and friendly people."
Joseph Walker, executive director of Rio-based inbound operator Club Vacations, says, "Brazil is one of the hottest destinations we are seeing from the North American market. The country has invested millions of dollars in marketing to Americans to elevate the level of tourism from the U.S., and there is evidence that it is working."
When Embratur was formed in 1966, its main objective was to foster tourism industry activity, and thus stimulate employment, revenue and development. Since January 2003, when a Brazilian ministry of tourism was created, Embratur's work concentrates on international promotion, marketing and support of tourism. The agency spent $64 million last year and projects expenditures of $72 million this year. "The money the country is investing is the reason Americans are discovering Brazil," Walker says.
"Brazil has been able to attract international investors and add to some of their natural and cultural beauties—the necessary infrastructure to meet international demand," says Edson Akabane, executive director of TAM Vacations, the package division of Brazil's largest airline. "Tourism in Brazil has gone from a marginal activity to one of the main economic activities in the country. A consistent investment in infrastructure, training and marketing is vital to transform this country into one of the top destinations in the world. Travelers cannot imagine how magical a trip to Brazil can be."
Akabane recommends that clients visit two or three destinations within Brazil. If they go to more than that, there may be a lot of air travel involved, since Brazil occupies approximately half of South America's land area. In general, he says, seven to ten days would give your clients enough time to experience the country and have some time to relax.?
Akabane says, "Brazil has a variety of attractions [that will appeal to] travelers' interests. Brazil is a blend of cultures, music and exotic cuisine. You have the Amazon, people from all around the world, São Paulo—which is one of the five biggest cities in the world—and some small and untouched fisherman villages." He continues to list the country's assets: "resort destinations, sports, watersports, golf, birdwatching, fishing, adventures and wildlife."
Younger travelers are driving much of the U.S. market to Brazil. According to Embratur, more than half the U.S. vacationers in Brazil in 2006 were under 40. Thirty percent were under age 32, and 25 percent were between 32 and 40 years old. The 41-50 demographic made up 24 percent, and travelers 51 and older represented 21 percent.
Brazil's appeal to a younger market may stem from its casual and fun ambiance. "There's never really a great reason to wear a shirt and tie in Brazil," Walker says. For nightlife, the incredible party city of Lapa, near São Paulo, sees thousands of people fill its streets, dancing, drinking and mingling.
Brazil is the world's fourth largest market for beer. Pilsner is the most common type of beer consumed. Because of the country's humid temperatures, light beers are quite common, with the most popular one being Skol. Walker told Travel Agent that he's never had a Skol there that wasn't as "cold as ice." As far as mixed beverages go, look no further than a caipirinha, the national cocktail made with cachaça (liquor similar to rum), sugar and lime. If you substitute vodka for cachaça, then you've got yourself a drink called the caiporoska.
In Rio, some interesting things to do include a helicopter ride around the Christ the Redeemer statue and a trip up to Sugarloaf Mountain, with its incredible views of the city. The mountain is reached by cable car in two stages, with a transfer at the top of Urca Hill.
Among resorts, Windsor Martinique Copa Hotel (www.windsorhoteis.com.br) in Rio de Janeiro is a great lower-priced option for your clients and is just 50 yards from the famous Copacabana beach. It offers 117 standard and superior rooms in a modern seven-story building with a glass facade. Nearby is the city's main commercial center, restaurants and tourist attractions, including the Rio Sul shopping center. Agents should call Ana Lúcia Domingues, the hotel's director of sales, at 011-55-21-9186-7979. Practical Facts
Rio's Astoria Palace (www.hotelastoriapalace.com) has been totally refurbished and is suitable for families and individuals alike. Ask for a view of the ocean, as the hotel is well located along the main avenue of Copacabana. Agents should contact Carlos Borges, director of sales, at 011-55-21-8631-5731.
Pestana Rio Atlantica (www.pestanarioatlantica.com.br) offers clients elegance and a prime location on Copacabana. This property is good for couples and business travelers. It has a total of 216 apartments and oceanfront suites. Agents should contact Paulo Pimenta, director of sales, at 011-55-21-2548-6332.
Club Med Rio das Pedras (www.clubmed.com.br) is 90 minutes from Rio de Janeiro. It occupies 74 acres and faces the islands in the Bay of Angra dos Reis. Fourteen Andalusian-style bungalows house a total of 324 rooms. The hotel's public spaces border the swimming pool and 1,640-foot-long beach. Agent Advice
Historically, guests at Rio das Pedras comprise upscale Brazilian families, Brazilian celebrities and Europeans. Club Med has made it a priority in 2008, however, to raise awareness among American travelers about its Brazilian properties, including Rio das Pedras. On the operational side, Club Med is working to ensure that the Brazilian resorts feature all amenities required by American travelers, including an English-speaking staff.
Agents earn up to 15 percent on the land and charter air portions of Club Med vacation packages. Phone the U.S. sales call center in Scottsdale, AZ, at 800-CLUB-MED. Agents can also contact Club Med's inside sales manager J.P. Lichtenstein at 305-925-9000.
Hotel Convento do Carmo (www.lhw.com/conventodocarmo) in Salvador is perfect for clients seeking luxury and charm. Sitting on top of a hill overlooking the Bay of All Saints, this converted convent is one of the most sought-after five-star accommodations in all of Brazil. It has 79 rooms, including 11 suites, and is about 40 minutes from the airport. For information or reservations at the hotel, call Thiago Almeida, director of sales, at 011-71-3327-8411.
Salvador is the African capital of Brazil, where residents sport traditional African dress and food is prepared with traditional African spices. "Those who want to find out about Africa, how it is and how it was, can go to Salvador and get a pretty good idea," Walker says.