Can Brazil keep the torch burning, post-Olympics?

By Sarah Marshall

Plans are underway to capitalise on Brazil's worldwide exposure

Rio's beaches are still crowded with tourists following the Olympics. Photo / Getty Images
Rio's beaches are still crowded with tourists following the Olympics. Photo / Getty Images

Blood, sweat and tears were shed both on and off the tracks during the Rio 2016 Olympics, which, despite some hard knocks from the press, have largely been deemed a success.

Although the Paralympics are yet to start (on September 7), thoughts are already turning to life after the games, with plans to capitalise on the country's worldwide exposure.

The investment required to hold the Olympics is enormous, but every host country hopes the legacy of staging such a high-profile event will be more than worth it.

Tourism is a key area where governments aim to recoup costs, although in reality, results have always been slow to materialise.

Vinicius Lummertz is confident things will be different for Brazil.

"Rio is a far better city now," he says. "With 60,000 hotel rooms, it's twice the size in terms of hospitality...

plus we have new museums and the renewed port area."

Lummertz, president of tourist board body Embratur, hopes Rio will repeat the success story of Barcelona, where, following the 1992 Olympics, the number of tourists tripled in subsequent years.

It's true the games have showcased Rio in a favourable light. Who didn't want to visit after watching the exhilarating cycling road races through Atlantic forest strewn with hibiscus flowers and spider monkeys? Improved security has also given travellers more confidence in the destination.

Above all, Lummertz says it's the openness of Brazilian people that's really warmed foreigners to the country.

"Research [commissioned by Embratur and conducted by FIPE] shows 98 per cent of tourists during the games highlighted the hospitality of people in Rio; 95 per cent said they would return.

"One of the main problems in tourism today is the distance between tourists and locals. It's as if there's a screen. That doesn't happen here."

Embratur reports 541,000 international tourists came to Brazil from July 1 to 15; an increase of 157,000 compared with the same period last year.

The energy throughout the tournament was palpable - but how can they continue that momentum and generate interest in the rest of Brazil?

The sun sets over the wetlands of Pantanal. Photo / 123RF
The sun sets over the wetlands of Pantanal. Photo / 123RF

"Our biggest challenge is our size," admits Lummertz. "But it's a problem we're happy to have.

"The world is getting smaller and you need surprising destinations - that's what we have. We still offer mystery. With the right amount of investment, we have a good prospective for the next decades."

Vibrant coastal city Rio, impressive natural spectacle Iguazu Falls and historic town Paraty are currently top draws for leisure visitors, but Lummertz believes wilderness areas such as the Amazon and the wildlife-rich wetlands of Pantanal will grow in popularity.

A revamped VisitBrasil website hopes to introduce travellers to these "niche" spots.

Outbreaks of Zika have been hanging over Brazil like a black cloud, but Lummertz is confident this will pass. "We dealt with it in the Fifties, and we're coping with it now."

No matter the challenge, Brazilians will find a way through. Such enduring optimism and desire to always reach for the stars are what makes the place - and it's people - so endearingly wonderful.

- AAP

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