Ecotourism in Brazil
Brazil has an immense territory of more than 8.5 million square km. with almost 7 percent of it under some type of environmental protection. In Brazil there are 76 national parks, 88 natural biological reserves, and 94 areas of environmental protection.
The main goal of ecotourism is to encourage socially and environmentally responsible tourists. According to the Brazil Ministry of Tourism, the country is aiming to use natural resources consciously and in a structured way. Brazil is committed to a new way of valuing land among its sustainable destinations. The annual increase in ecotourism in Brazil is between 15-25 percent, and according to the World Tourism Organization, this outweighs conventional tourism growth.
Brazil’s top ecotourist attraction is the waterfalls at Foz do Iguaçu, which are in the state of Paraná in the South. According to a study by the Ministry of Tourism, 23 percent of foreign tourists visiting Brazil on leisure went to see the waterfalls. Of the foreign tourists that visited the waterfalls, more than 90 percent said that ecotourism/adventure was the main reason for their trip. In 2012, more than 600,000 foreign tourists visited them.
The city of Manaus, which is the capital of the state of Amazonas, is also a top ecotourism destination because. Manaus is at the heart of the rainforest. The state of Amazonas, which is located in the middle of the Amazon rainforest, the Earth’s largest rainforest, is Brazil’s largest state. It covers about 1.5 million square kilometers, occupying more than 18 percent of Brazil. It is the most preserved state in the country, which includes protected areas, forests, parks, and reserves covering about 98 percent of the state.
Nature tourism is the main attraction of the Amazon itineraries that offer tourists the chance to meet, learn, and value the importance of tropical flora and the people who live there. In addition, travelers can visit the Serra da Capivara in Piauí, a region proclaimed by the United Nations Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) as a world heritage.
Bonito describes itself as the “capital city of ecotourism in Brazil”. As the main city for the region of Serra da Bodoquena, the city of Bonito received over 130 million reais in investment from the government in order to improve its infrastructure.
Perhaps the most remote ecotourism site is the Parque Nacional de Fernando de Noronha. It is an archipelago of 21 islands, situated 545 km off the coast of the state of Pernambuco in the Northeast of Brazil. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 2001, the archipelago is extremely valued in terms of its beaches and clear waters for snorkeling. A special environmental conservation fee is charged to all tourists that go to the island.
Despite Brazil being acknowledged abroad for its ecotourism potential, domestic tourists tend to look considerably less for ecotourist attractions. Brazilians were by far the most important customers of the tourism market in Brazil, as there are more than 45 million domestic tourists in Brazil. Of these domestic tourists, only 5.4 percent said that ecotourism was the main motivator for their domestic trip.
Twenty-one percent of foreign tourists, about 1.4 million people, coming to Brazil on a leisure trip stated that they chose Brazil because of the options offered in the ecotourism sector, according to a report by the Ministry of Tourism conducted in 2012.
Marajó Island, located in the state of Pará, attracts tourists who are seeking sustainable destinations. Fluvio-marine Marajó is the largest island in the world with a rich geography and varied biodiversity, with part of its territory covering the sea and part the Amazon River. Ecotourists can hike and enjoy the preserved fauna, such as the water buffalo that are bred freely around the island.
Pantanal is an ecological paradise in the heart of Brazil that spans the states of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul with a total area of 230,000 sq. km. It is also considered by UNESCO as a Natural World Heritage. With periodically flooded seasonal forests, its ecological importance is immense, with one of the richest ecosystems ever found. Fishing is the fastest growing tourism activity in Pantanal during the rainy season.
Additionally, Pantanal Cuiabá is considered an ecological sanctuary for its natural biodiversity. One of the determining factors for choosing Cuiabá to host the 2014 World Cup was to develop several sustainable projects. Organizers of the World Cup made commitments to ensure that the tournament and new stadium had the least possible environmental impact. The Pantanal Arena Stadium is one of eight stadiums in Brazil that obtained LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification, which verifies and attests to the environmental quality of an enterprise.
Caiman Ecological Sanctuary is also located in the state of Mato Grosso do Sul and extends over an area of 53 hectares. The sanctuary operates a major program of conservation to maintain the Private Reserve Natural Heritage (NHPR). It promotes various projects throughout the area of 5,600 hectares.
One of the main problems that hinders the Brazilian ecotourism market’s growth is the fact that many ecotourist attractions are located long distances from each other, as well from more conventional attractions such as São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Furthermore, the lack of infrastructure such as highways make it even more difficult for tourists to reach attractions.
There are about 2,000 companies operating in this sector in Brazil, which is responsible for the creation of around 15,000 jobs. Ecotourism leads the tourism sector in growth globally speaking, growing around 20 percent every year, while conventional tourism grows 7.5 percent.
[Research for this article comes from the Tourism Review and Brazil Business websites.]