Brazil steps up tourism offensive as Cup looms
The sun sets on Botafogo bay with the Christ the Reedemer statue on the Corcovado mountain in the background in Rio de Janeiro, on May 5, 2013 - by Christophe Simon
"We have a unique brand of hospitality" in a country which can afford tourists the "visit of a lifetime," said Tourism Minister Vinicius Lages, spearheading the campaign by state tourism body Embratur.
The campaign will use the World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio as springboards to long-term tourism growth in a continent-sized country which welcomed six million foreign visitors overall in 2013.
The June 12-July 13 World Cup is set to attract some 600,000 foreign and three million domestic visitors to 12 cities.
Although protests at the event's $11 billion price tag have marred Cup preparations, Embratur's promotional video launch portrays Brazil as "the land of happiness".
Lages and Embratur chairman Vicente Neto insisted any social protests against the cost of the Cup would not interfere with fans' enjoyment of the event, while dubbing demonstrating a civic right and the mark of a democratic society.
Lages told reporters that "sport is a key tool" to develop tourist infrastructure.
He said the country's "incredible mix of cultures" would win over not just foreign tourists but also provide "an opportunity for Brazilian people to get to know their own country."
"Visitors will get to know a very special country. We take celebrating very seriously here," said Lages, as Brazil unveiled an advertisement targeting 1.3 billion people in 113 countries.
Lages said this year's campaign would not necessarily change the volume of tourism but rather the visitor profile.
Lages and Neto said polls taken after last year's Confederations Cup showed a majority of tourists visiting attractions beyond match venues and expressing interest in return visits despite that event drawing large demonstrations.
However, Brazilian travel agencies have expressed recent concern that visitor demand could be lower than first forecast amid high accommodation prices and airfares.
There is little alternative to air travel given the distances between most of the World Cup venues.
But emerging alternative forms of accommodation including bed and breakfasts in slum areas of Rio has led to some hotel discounting.