Around the world, the travel industry has been by far the hardest-hit during the coronavirus pandemic. And, unlike retail and services, the effects of the downturn are set to persist for some time, as regular operations are not expected to be resumed until mass COVID-19 vaccination has been rolled out. In Brazil, tourism companies are desperately scrambling for ways to minimize their losses and survive the harsh pandemic winter. According to the latest figures, it is working.
Data from the National Tourism Confederation (CNC) shows that, as of September, sales in the sector reached BRL 12.8 billion ($2.37 billion) – 28% below February levels, but above the BRL 12.15 billion recorded in March, when social isolation measures were implemented for the first time.
When breaking down this performance into subsectors, the majority of the improvement came from lodging and restaurants, while the cultural sector is lagging the most.
This can be explained by the economic reopening process in São Paulo, Brazil’s wealthiest and most populous state, and home to the highest tourism revenues. Restaurants, bars, and similar facilities have been open for business for some time, yet cultural events and activities remain largely restricted. Almost 35% of all tourism revenues in Brazil come from São Paulo.
Not straying far from home
Another trend, spotted by Booking.com, goes some way toward explaining this tentative recovery of the tourism sector. According to The Future of Travel survey, 44% of Brazilians intend on traveling domestically within the next seven to 12 months. Furthermore, 55% would like to visit new destinations in their own region, although 53% of respondents showed reticence toward commercial flights and bus trips – due to a fear of contracting Covid-19 – further explaining the trend of short-distance breaks, usually by car.
The CNC added that macroeconomic factors also impact Brazil’s preference for domestic tourism at this stage of the pandemic. “The increased valuation of foreign currency [the U.S. dollar] and the prices of touristic services may stimulate the demand for activities that focus on domestic tourism, given the hardships international tourists face when traveling abroad.”
However, they warn that a stronger recovery in the coming months would depend on price stability – with increasing inflation – a rise in unemployment, and the end of the government’s emergency coronavirus aid program, set to expire in December.
Indeed, the idea of boosting domestic tourism has been picked up by the federal government, which launched the Resumption of Tourism program last week, backed by the campaign motto “travel responsibly and rediscover Brazil.”
Consisting of credit lines, works to improve tourism infrastructure, and actions to qualify employees in the sector, the program is focused on four axes: preserving companies and jobs in the tourism sector, improving the structure of tourist destinations, implanting biosafety protocols, and promoting tourism to the population.
Time to regroup
Amid the chaos, a part of the sector used this juncture to regroup. In October, a group of companies launched Recept, the first sectoral group for receptive tourism in Brazil, consisting of agencies that work with transfers, city tours, and other forms of transportation solutions for tourists. In an emailed statement to The Brazilian Report, Recept president César Fernandes explained that the 20 agencies that founded the association have been planning this project for some time but only had time to put it into practice amid the pandemic, using digital tools.
According to Recept data, the sector has over 3,000 travel agencies that manage tourists’ transportation during trips, such as concierge services, which generates 78,000 jobs and BRL 2.1 billion in annual revenues.
The association, said Fernandes, was born out of the need to improve representation in the industry. “We want our sector to be legally acknowledged, to carry out data research of our representativity, as well as building specific agendas alongside the sector and all levels of government,” he said.
CVC, the biggest travel agency in Brazil, is a useful case study to analyze the sector’s recovery. The company recently reported that 845,000 tourists used their services in Q3 2020, 74 percent below Q3 2019. But even if results may seem underwhelming, the picture was much bleaker back in April, when the number of customers crashed 98%. CVC saw out Q3 with losses of BRL 172.2 million, but brokerage firm Guide Investimentos says the company is managing to recover its passenger flow.
And the end-of-year holiday season is just around the corner.