Political demonstrations in the build up to the FIFA 2014 World Cup cast a long shadow over the event, threatening its success.
But when the football started the headlines were nothing but positive, with Brazilian tourism one of the big winners.
Here Breaking Travel News sits down with Embratur president Vicente Neto to discuss how the country turned around the event and what the future holds as Brazil builds toward the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro in 2016.
Breaking Travel News: From a tourism perspective, do you feel Brazil somewhat snatched victory from the jaws of defeat during the FIFA World Cup 2014; with potentially negative headlines at the start of the event replaced by generally positive ones toward the end?
Vicente Neto: The 2014 FIFA World Cup offered a fantastic opportunity to host a spectacular tournament, showcasing the diversity of Brazil through the 12 host cities and giving us the opportunity to strengthen the country’s position as one of the best international tourist destinations.
Our success as the host of the world’s greatest sporting event was measured not only by the record number of tourists attending, but also by the provision of efficient transport services, security both within and around the stadiums, and the incredible displays of support by the fans and celebrations that took place across the country.
The success of the World Cup has been acknowledged across the whole word, where many are now describing it as the best tournament to date and are recognising that Brazil as a nation is clearly capable of hosting mega sporting events.
The love for the country was felt both on and off the pitch, by more than one million international visitors who praised Brazilian music, the country’s gastronomy and its people and culture, as well as its hospitality.
BTN: How many international visitors do you expect will have arrived in Brazil as a result of the World Cup when the final tally is released? Was the investment in the tournament value for money?
VN: Based on the post-tournament statistics, Brazil has enjoyed a clear victory in terms of tourism.
The most recent figures show that we welcomed a record number of more than one million people from 203 countries.
During the tournament, a daily average of 485,000 passengers passed through 21 airports in the 12 host cities, while the data also shows that hotel occupation broke a historic record.
Besides attracting a large number of tourists, Brazil’s investment in the Cup brought a variety of long-term benefits to the country.
From a purely financial point of view, the World Cup contributed around R$30 billion to the Brazilian economy, generating R$500 million for small businesses in all the host cities during the event.
Nearly one million jobs were created across various sectors, with approximately 50,000 workers entering the tourism sector directly.
BTN: What were the most significant infrastructure developments in Brazil as a result of the FIFA World Cup 2014? Do you feel this will leave a lasting legacy for the economy?
VN: In preparation for the 2014 World Cup, the Brazilian government, together with private bodies, invested in the improvement and expansion of 16 airports across Brazil.
This is a benefit that will remain in place for those that use air transport and for tourists, who can now enjoy better quality, more comfortable airports.
Before 2014, there were already more than 450,000 hotel rooms available, many of which were part of international chains.
The majority of them were renovated for the World Cup, together with the planned construction of 422 new hotels, offering 70,351 additional rooms for tourists in 2016.
While some of the developments delivered by the World Cup are easy to measure, there are positives results that are much harder to quantify.
For example, about 30,000 people graduated from free language courses, provided by Pronatec, in order to prepare for the reception and welcome of international fans.
This important knowledge and education will continue to boost our ever-more global economy, long after the end of the tournament.
In terms of tourism, the Cup was a fantastic opportunity to provide widespread exposure of Brazil’s diverse culture, not only to the thousands of tourists that visited, but also to a wide range of the international press.
This in itself, together with the significant improvements to transport and the economic boost to business and jobs across the country, will have long-lasting positive effects on the country’s development, as well as the perception of Brazil as a great nation in general.
BTN: Can you talk our readers through how you expect to maintain momentum in Brazilian tourism figures from now until the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games in 2016?
VN: One of the most positive aspects of holding the World Cup was the opportunity to show off Brazil through the exposure of the 12 host cities, each one showcasing a unique history, as well as its own identity and culture, but also the culture, gastronomy and hospitality of the Brazilian people.
Through this positive exposure both before and during the Cup, we hope to see a continued interest in these cities as key destinations and anticipate a significant increase in tourism in the next few years.
Preliminary data from the ministry of tourism indicates that at least 378 Brazilian towns welcomed visitors from outside the country during the World Cup.
In 2009, Embratur launched the Aquarela Plan, a ten-year strategy to help promote Brazil at an international level.
This includes an increase of foreign currency entering Brazil between 2010 and 2020 of 300 per cent and the continuation of growth at least one per cent above the average for South America.
We are focussed on building on the momentum, enthusiasm and success of the World Cup to enjoy the same success during the 2016 Olympics.
BTN: Recent figures from Embratur suggest some 7.2 million international visitors will arrive in Brazil this year. How much do you hope this will increase before the 2016 Olympic Games?
VN: Our vision for attracting foreign tourists to the Olympics was part of a wider strategy, as described in the Aquarela Plan.
After the success of the World Cup, the goals for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games are being revised.
BTN: In what ways is the government of Brazil working to boost accessibility of the destinations to overseas visitors, particularly those from Europe?
VN: In recent years, investments of more than R$8 million have been made across 45 different programmes to upgrade public transport.
These projects include new bus corridors and routes, train stations, terminals, traffic control centres, BRTs (Bus Rapid Transit) and LRVs (Light Rail Vehicles).
Besides this, as part of the preparations for the World Cup, the Brazilian government invested RS$6.280 billion in improving the airport infrastructure of passenger terminals and runways.
These refurbishment projects increased passenger capacity by 81 per cent across the host cities.
BTN: How will the work of Embratur change focus under your leadership?
VN: We wish to continue the success that Embratur has experienced over recent years in the promotion of international tourism.
This includes capturing the imagination of potential tourists so that they consider Brazil as a holiday destination, as well as ensuring that tourists visit us for specific events, like Carnival and the Olympics, and that they have time to explore the alternative destinations that Brazil has to offer.
The World Cup showed the whole planet a characteristic, a trait that those who have already been to the country know well: the joy and hospitality of Brazilians. We hope to welcome the world with open arms once again in 2016.
Interview: Chris O’Toole