Rio’s Olympian tourism challenge
Every Olympic Games in recent years has experienced teething problems ahead of the world’s greatest sporting event. Staging an event which involves the participation of teams from all over the world and as all-encompassing (from a sporting perspective) as the Olympic Games is a major challenge for any country at any time. All recent venues have faced growing costs for security, venue infrastructure and accommodation for athletes and tourists alike. Added to this is the infrastructure required to provide efficient transport to and from the various venues, communications infrastructure and the accommodation and sporting facilities for athletes, officials, the media, supporters and local and international tourists.
When the Brazilian government and the city Rio de Janeiro accepted the challenge of hosting the 2016 Olympics in 2009, Brazil was a country riding high on an economic boom. In fact the acronym BRICS (referring to the five countries which were seen as the global economic powerhouses) started with B for Brazil. Brazil successfully hosted the World Cup in 2014 although it experienced some infrastructure problems and there was a spike in crime before and during the World Cup, something we are seeing in the leadup to the Olympics. Brazil is hardly unique in this respect. However it is clear that Brazil’s hosting of the 2016 has been plagued with more challenges than any recent Olympic venue and some of these challenges may impact not only on tourism for the games but after.
Brazil’s economy has suffered in recent years from the drop in prices of many of its key export commodities and this has generated both economic and social stress on the country. However, very few Olympic venues have ever had to face the combination of challenges that Brazil is attempting to cope with in the final days leading up to the Olympics. They are dominated by three key problems, Zika, crime and the combination of political and economic instability. Zika is not unique to Brazil. In fact over 40 countries have experienced cases of this mosquito borne virus but the prevalence of Zika in Brazil and the alarming growth from 2015 in the number of birth defects resulting from Zika in Brazil has aroused considerable fear about this among intending tourists and a number of athletes. The Brazilian government has gone to great lengths to combat Zika and advise intending tourists about steps they can take to minimise their exposure to Zika but there is no doubt that Zika is a most unpopular four letter word in Brazil. Crime is not new to Brazil or to Rio but as media focus tends to magnify problems in an Olympic city.
The prevalence of street crime in Brazil has been the subject of unrelenting attention from the international media. Tourists, especially if they don’t speak Portugese, are unfamiliar with their surroundings and flaunt their valuables are easy targets for street criminals. The Rio city authorities and the Brazilian government have gone to great lengths to address the crime issues. Many Brazilian police have undergone training in the field of Tourism Orientated Police Practice but no amount of policing will totally eliminate opportunistic crime. The resources police and security services of Brazil are also in demand protecting athletes, officials, international VIP and the Olympic venues and keeping an eye out for terrorist threats. The third core challenge is that of political instability and economic inequality.
The recent downturn in the Brazilian economy has sharpened the gap between rich and poor in Brazil. Many economically disadvantaged Brazilians resent the vast amounts of money spent on the Olympics and consider this to be at their expense. The wealth gap has contributed to both crime and to political upheavals and Brazil’s President was recently suspended. This Olympics is faced with many other challenges including the doping controversy surrounding Russian athletes and ongoing infrastructure problems. It all begs the question, will the Olympic Games be good for Brazil and especially for Brazilian tourism ?
We will see soon. There is no doubt that Brazil has experienced the most rocky countdown to an Olympic Games in recent years. However, it is hoped that once the Opening Ceremony is staged and the games begin in less than two weeks that the pessimism will turn to optimism.