Economy & Trade, Headlines, Latin America & the Caribbean

BRAZIL: Carnival is Small Fry to World Tourism Market

Mario Osava

RIO DE JANEIRO, Feb 11 1997 (IPS) - Carnival in Rio and the rest of Brazil is one of the biggest and most well-known festive bashes in the world, but despite it’s roaring fame, economically, it represents only a miniscule share of international tourism.

Even though all the hotels in Rio de Janeiro were fully booked this year, making carnival a happier affair with the return of foreign tourists, the income made was modest compared with the billions spent on tourism worldwide.

In the five days of constant partying, starting Friday, Rio de Janeiro was invaded by 300,000 tourists, nearly 30 percent of whom were foreign, said Municipal Tourism Secretary, Gerard Borgeaiseau.

These visitors brought 255 million dollars at a rate of 170 dollars per head per day, said Bourgeaiseau, and in total, carnival could move a billion dollars, including all the associated activities.

Despite the fame of carnival, the beaches and other attractions of Brazil, the nation’s share of the world tourism market is currently barely 0.3 percent of the total.

Some 592 million people travelled out of their home country last year, spending 423,100 million dollars in the countries visited, without including the travel costs, according to preliminary data from the World Tourism Organisation.

Brazil attracted only two million tourists, according to the Brazilian Association of Travel Agents, slightly higher than the 1.9 million of 1986.

Compared with the growth in tourism throughout the rest of the world, this shows stagnation of the Brazilian sector, meaning the loss of 12 billion dollars to the country, according to one economic investigation centre.

France, the leading nation for tourism, attracted 61.5 million visitors in 1996, followed by the United States with 44.8 million. Meanwhile, Europe as a whole received 347 million tourists, or 58.6 percent of the total.

The World Council of Travel and Tourism said this sector and related activities accounted for 10.7 percent of the gross world product, or 3.6 billion dollars per year.

While tourism takes 11.1 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of North America, the figure was barely 6.2 percent for Central and South America. By comparison, in Spain it stands at 17.9 percent.

Tourism is growing at a rate of more than four percent per year, employing 250 million workers worldwide while demanding goods and services in 52 areas of activity – including construction, electronics, transport and food – and is one of the most dynamic sectors of the world economy.

It is also an activity mainly carried out by the rich, and therefore constitutes a mechanism for wealth redistribution. But the benefits for the developing countries are insignificant.

In Brazil, the situation is complicated by the increasing deficit of the tourism sector in recent years. Since 1994, when the government stabilised the currency and produced the overvaluation of the real, the number of Brazilians travelling abroad and their foreign spending increased.

This spending exceeded four billion dollars in the last year, while the foreign tourists contributed barely 800 million to Brazil, said the Central bank. In three years, the deficit increased to five times its former figure.

Carnival is the period of greatest tourist activity in the country. For along with the foreign visitors, there is an intense internal movement of travellers who fill up the highways and beach resorts.

Salvador, in Bahia State and Recife, are the two northeastern cities renowned for their “street carnival,” an all-out party which lasts for 10 days, with millions of people dancing frenetically through the streets in the wake of the music floats.

Salvador received 750,000 visitors from the rest of Brazil, according to Bahiatursa, the official tourist company. This tourism generated 50,000 temporary posts and income of at least 115 million dollars in hotels, restaurants and the entertainments sector.

In Rio de Janeiro, where carnival has become a structure of the culture industry, the “samba schools” offer a great spectacle of dance, colour, beauty and sensuality.

With four nighttime processions lasting more than 10 hours each, some 100,000 people dance and sing in front of an audience of some 150,000, while millions more experience the scene on television.

Carnival is a massive explosion of happiness, a raw material the poor tropical countries have still not managed to convert into an economically valid product similar to the tourism offered by the rich Northern nations.

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