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...