Last year brought record numbers of visitors to Brazil, and this year is expected to be just as good, according to Miguel Jeronimo, CEO of North America at Embratur, the Brazilian tourism office, in New York.

According to the Brazilian Central Bank, the government's finance and economics organization, Brazil ended 2006 with $4.3 billion in tourism income, an increase of more than 11% from $3.8 billion in 2005.

According to these figures, 2006 was the best year ever for the Brazilian tourism industry in terms of revenue.

To maintain Brazil's growth momentum, Embratur has launched the Brazil Specialist Travel Agent Program in the U.S., which educates agents on how better to sell the destination.

In addition, Jeronimo predicted a surge in awareness from two events taking place in Rio de Janeiro: the third annual Destination Brazil Showcase, a tourism conference slated for May 28 to 29, and the Pan American Games, an international sporting event that takes place in July.

Jeronimo spoke with Travel Weekly about current trends in the Brazilian tourism industry.  

Travel Weekly:Why do you think more people from the U.S. are visiting Brazil than ever before? Beyond the marketing campaign, why is there a greater awareness of the destination now with the traveling public?

Jeronimo: There is a greater demand to visit Brazil, and this goes beyond the marketing campaign, because since the opening of the Brazilian Tourism Office in the U.S. in 2004, we have continuously and consistently organized workshop seminars for travel agents and worked with tour operators and airline companies to promote the destination.

Furthermore, we have organized mega-events for the public [in New York], namely at Grand Central Terminal, and last year held a Gastronomic Food Festival at the United Nations, showcasing our products. All these events have also [attracted] great media coverage.

Media coverage alone on Brazil as a tourist destination for 2006 far surpassed anything written in previous years, thus creating greater awareness among the public in general. We have also worked with many journalists and helped them with useful information for their articles. The educated traveler has certainly taken all this information and published articles into consideration and made his or her choices.

TW:What types of travel to Brazil do you think will be hot sellers for 2007 and why?

Jeronimo: I believe there will be great demand for adventure and ecotourism travel, not to mention the ongoing demand for sun and beach and pure relaxation [such as] body healing and spas. This is actually in conformity with the trends for 2007 released last year by many travel publications in the U.S. Travelers are looking for new places to discover as well as exotic and luxury products.

TW:What are the top destinations in Brazil for international travelers? Which destinations are especially hot right now?

Jeronimo: The top destinations for leisure travelers still continue to be Rio, Bahia and the northeast, which includes Pernambuco, Rio Grande do Norte, Ceara and Maranhao. Buzios is one of the top destinations on the rise as well as the Amazon and Manaus for adventure and ecotourism.

I do have to say that Santa Catarina, in the south, has been investing strongly in tourism and it appears to be a new destination for the U.S. traveler.

As far as the business traveler is concerned, Sao Paulo ranks first, then Rio, Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife as well as Belo Horizonte.

TW:How big a turnout do you expect at this year's Destination Brazil Showcase?

Jeronimo: The expectation is that approximately 300 tour operators will attend from the main international markets, and there is a condition that attendees must be decision-makers.

Buyers will have bilateral meetings with hoteliers, Brazilian tour operators, meeting and event planners and airlines, also showcasing the main tourism attractions in Brazil and negotiating new business opportunities. A strong component will certainly be meetings and incentives travel opportunities to Brazil in the different economic sectors.

TW:How many people are you expecting to visit for the Pan American Games? And will the event increase awareness of the destination?

Jeronimo: This will be the beginning of the biggest multisport event of the Americas. There will be more than 30 different sports modalities, including the ones integrating the Olympic Games program of Beijing 2008.

There will be more than 5,000 athletes and approximately 2,500 officials from 42 countries. The organization foresees the presence of approximately 3 million fans. To ensure that the event is a success, the organization counts on the support of 20,000 people.

Participating countries include all countries from South America, the Caribbean, Mexico, the U.S. and Canada.

This event will certainly help increase awareness of the destination due to the hospitality of the Brazilian people, the warmth, natural beauties, cultural aspects and the incredible cuisine and gastronomic delicacies.

TW:Are there events other than Carnival and the Pan American Games that are going to be peak travel periods for Brazil?

Jeronimo: Those are the two largest for this year. People should really start booking for the Pan American Games right away. For New Year's Eve in Rio, it is also suggested that one books far in advance, at least by August or September, for better rates.

TW:How has Brazil been able to avoid problems due to the suspension of Varig flights to the U.S.? 

Jeronimo: We have tried to diminish the shortage of seats in the smoothest possible way. TAM Brazilian Airlines has increased and stepped up some frequencies with both morning and night flights. We are also working with other U.S. carriers, namely American, Delta and Continental, for more flights.

TW:Over the past year or so, there were some highly publicized accounts of crime against foreign tourists, particularly in Rio, for example, the busload of tourists who were attacked en route from the airport. What has been the effect of these reports on people's perceptions of travel to Brazil?

Jeronimo: Generally speaking, these reports have not had significant negative consequences on people's perceptions on travel to Brazil.

Unfortunately, all over the world, crime and robbery against people, be they tourists or not, happen very often. The local governments in the main cities of Brazil, and especially Rio, have stepped up security measures to avoid this sort of unfortunate situation.

Tourists continue going to Brazil and become fans because they are welcomed with great hospitality and warmth, fall in love with the natural beauties of the country, the food, the overall good vibes and happiness they encounter. They experience unforgettable days and keep excellent memories of great and relaxed vacations.

To contact reporter Mark Chesnut, send e-mail [email protected].

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