Few other Olympic Games in recent memory created as much controversy as Rio 2016, but all of the airport, hotel, and transportation upgrades bode well for continued tourism development over the long-term.
More than 56 percent of arrivals flying into Brazil for the Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games were visiting the country for the first time, according to a survey released this week by the Brazilian Tourism Board.
In addition, the 541,000 international tourists who entered the country from July 1 to August 15 represent an increase of 157,000 people over the same period last year. Part of that is due to the visa waiver for visitors from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia that was implemented specifically for the Games. The waiver impacted 74.7 percent of foreigners who came to Brazil to attend Olympic sporting events.
As expected, the media attention during the first-ever Olympic Games in South America focused heavily on corruption scandals, crime, pollution, operational hiccups, the misdeeds of certain members the American men’s swimming team, and other challenges inside and outside of Rio’s Olympic Park.
Much less attention highlighted the strains under which these Games took place.
The Brazilian economy in 2016 is a far cry from that of seven years ago when Brazil won its bid to host the Games and oil prices were exponentially higher. At the time, oil-rich Brazil was positioned as one of the BRIC countries expected to emerge into something resembling a New World economy.
With such a steep drop in resources to fund the Rio 2016 Olympics, it’s somewhat of a testament to the organizers who put together what for all accounts was a highly successful event under the circumstances. Still, overall, the Rio 2016 Olympics will most likely be remembered more Sochi than Seoul.
Looking ahead, the big question from a tourism standpoint revolves around how the worldwide exposure during the Games shaped the perception of Brazil as a leisure and business travel destination.
The constant imagery of Copacabana Beach and Sugarloaf Mountain went a long way to imprinting one of the world’s most beautiful cities on the minds of travelers everywhere.
To build on that positive image, the Brazilian Tourism Board is promoting its new survey in an attempt to show a more empirical overview of public perception. According to the survey:
“1,262 international visitors were interviewed between August 6 and 18 for the survey conducted by the Economic Research Institute Foundation (FIPE), and 4,150 Brazilians were also interviewed between August 3-16 for the research developed by GMR Intelligence & Research.”
Respondents ranked Rio’s hospitality highest in the survey, receiving 98.7 percent approval by international tourists and 92 percent by Brazilians. Following that, 94.6 percent of visitors approved of the airports, and 86.6 percent approved of the public transport.
“The best rated of all was the Brazilian hospitality of the cariocas (Rio residents), which shows the tourist experience of Brazil goes far beyond the beaches,” Vinicius Lummertz, president of the Brazilian Tourism Board, told Skift. “So, the exposure was worth the risk to host such a major event as the Olympics in the face of the ongoing political crisis and economic crisis. The experience overall ranked very well, especially because of the mixed expectations leading up to the event.”
Quickly after Rio won its bid to host the Games, the Brazilian government rolled out an aggressive strategy toward reducing crime in the impoverished favela communities and the popular tourism districts. And then during the actual Olympic Games, there were 88,000 police and military forces on hand to assure visitors and television viewers that the city was safe.
But what about now, following the Games? We asked Lummertz how the city is going to emphasize safety without the images of police in body armor patrolling the streets.
“That also happened in London when they brought in additional security,” he answered, dismissing the idea that the military forces brought in specifically for the Games were needed now. “The homicide rate in Rio has dropped by half in the last decade. We don’t feel we’ve finished the job, but the future of Rio and Brazil is based on the success of our security.”
Lummertz aligned the situation in Rio with that of Miami a couple decades ago, which evolved from a city with a once high crime rate and low-end tourism product into a modern, global tourism capital. Spurring that evolution, he said, Rio’s new airport, new hotels, new transportation networks, and many other infrastructure improvements are delivering a higher quality tourism experience.
Most importantly, he asserted, 80 percent of the city upgrades were funded by the private sector and the rest public. Whereas, “London was the other way around,” inferring that the future of Rio doesn’t rely on the cash-strapped federal government.
“All of the infrastructure improvements due to the Olympic has resulted in two Rios,” explained Lummertz. “It is twice the city it was. What was done in the last five years, would have not been done in the next 20 if it wasn’t for the Olympics. This will lead to more private participation in the development of tourism.”
Another benefit derived from the Games, and this is no small thing, the city finally has a 21st century website at VisitBrasil.com.
The portal is still under development as the tourism board incorporates the full breadth of Brazil’s many different destination experiences. But the country now at least has a digital platform to compete with the continent’s best tourism websites in Chile, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
“VisitBrasil.com is slowly bringing together all of the different regions in Brazil, and we were inspired by the most modern websites in the United States, which also has many different states and cities,” Lummertz told us. “The most effective way to promote ourselves now is to amplify our message in the digital era.”
Photo credit: The beach volleyball stadium became an instant icon for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games, although it was built as a temporary structure. Rio 2016