Privatization to open up Brazil’s tourism: minister

Tourism Marx Beltrao says privatization of state-owned sites is key to developiing the tourism industry
AFP

Brasília (AFP) – Fancy running a paradise island or building a hotel in unspoilt parkland? Brazil might be the place for you under the government’s plan to attract investors into the meager tourism industry.

Tourism Minister Marx Beltrao told AFP that everything is potentially up for sale as part of President Michel Temer’s bid to raise money for the economy, which is barely nudging out of two year’s of tough recession.

Already, Temer has announced private investment in previously off limits airports, power plants and oil fields. Now the country’s vast and still untapped potential for attracting tourists to magical beaches, untouched forests and historic cities is on the agenda.

“Brazil has hundreds of areas under state patrimony with no installations of any kind and big tourist potential,” Beltrao said in an interview Tuesday.

“Our aim is to identify them and transform them into areas of touristic interest and then give the concessions to private entities,” he said.

Illustrating just how underdeveloped the sector is — and how eager the center-right government is to get new revenue — Beltrao said the goal was to work with investors on total transformation of currently unexploited areas.

“We’ll plan where the bars will go, the restaurants, the shopping centers, the hotels, resorts — everything you can build there. And the government will start collecting funds in places that were previously practically just bare landscapes,” he said.

It’s a big task.

While Brazil is famous for its white beaches, rainforests and party life, tourism is relatively quiet.

The country is second behind Mexico as a Latin American tourist destination and only 27th in the world. In 2016 there were just 6.8 million foreign visitors, compared to 35 million in Mexico, according to official figures.

That’s even more remarkable considering 2016 was the year of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics and two years after Brazil hosted the football World Cup.

“It’s very little,” the minister said.

– Building new Cancuns? –

The program of concessions will start in the southern corner where Brazil borders Argentina and Paraguay, near the Iguazu waterfalls, one of South America’s top attractions.

The agenda includes stimulating transatlantic traffic by putting more airports under private control, encouraging charter flights and opening airlines to 100 percent foreign ownership.

Beltrao will be visiting Paris on Monday and Tuesday for an international tourism conference where he says he wants “to learn” and to “sit down with the Mexicans.”

In particular, Beltrao says he wants to get the inside scoop on the success of Cancun as an international magnet, and “how to transform areas to attract tourism and investment with a favorable legislative climate for businesses and favorable tax legislation for businessmen.”

Of course it doesn’t help that despite visions of new Cancuns, Brazil’s most famous city, Rio de Janeiro, is in severe financial difficulties and plagued by growing violence.

A year after hosting the Olympics, the police rely on army reinforcements to keep well armed drug gangs at bay, while attempts at reversing decades of ruinous pollution in the beautiful Guanabara Bay have been all but shelved.

“Rio is hit by a serious economic, political and security crisis,” Beltrao said.

“A year ago it was at a peak, with tourism flourishing, thousands of new jobs and everyone happy,” he said. “Rio is Brazil’s postcard, the gateway to the country that everyone talks about around the world… The goal is to bring tourism back to Rio.”

Beltrao says he hopes that domestic tourism will also see a big boost, rising from the current 60 million to 100 million in five years. The same period should see a doubling of foreign visits and creation of four million new jobs, he said.

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