Eco-luxury tourism blossoms in Brazil, but the model still needs to find its way

. Apr 28, 2019
tourism, one of the best beaches in Fernando de Noronha Conceição, one of the best beaches in Fernando de Noronha

Brazil is already known for its natural beauty, but now it seems the tourism industry wants to put a luxury twist on its most prized asset. The eco-friendly hotel industry is growing in the country, bringing the challenge to develop these spaces in a truly sustainable way, taking into account the welfare of the environment, the local communities, and a profitable business model.  

The eco-luxury segment, which was previously more connected to destinations such as the Pantanal and the Amazon rainforest, has spread all over in the country—in large part propelled by foreign investors and tourists. According to Senac university’s Hospitality, Sustainability and Business professor Fernando Kanni, this industry benefits from a global trend in the search for exclusivity and authenticity.

</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The scale of visitors in these places is not proportional to the influx to some cities abroad and that’s why it feels more exclusive. Aligning this to sustainable management make these destinations competitive in a global environment,” he says. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil’s unparalleled </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">biodiversity</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, one of the richest in the world, makes it a top destination for those who are already connected to ecotourism. Also, in a broader sense, Brazil has an </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">unfulfilled potential for tourism</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> which presents an opportunity for growth. Data from the World Tourism Organization show Brazil is behind fellow developing countries Mexico and Thailand in number of tourists, nevermind European hotspots such as France and Spain. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">According to journalist Ana Duék, editor of the website </span><a href=""><i><span style="font-weight: 400;">Viajar Verde</span></i></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, considered one of the best digital influencers in the segment by the International Travel and Tourism Awards, this “unknown” status also reflects the advertising policies promoted by the government, traditionally focused in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the Northeastern areas. She believes, however, that Brazilians are slowly keeping up with foreigners when it comes to discovering new top destinations in the country.</span></p> <div id="attachment_16433" style="width: 1010px" class="wp-caption alignnone"><img aria-describedby="caption-attachment-16433" loading="lazy" class="size-full wp-image-16433" src="" alt="Tourist Boat Navigating On Murky Amazon Water In Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve" width="1000" height="667" srcset=" 1000w, 300w, 768w, 610w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><p id="caption-attachment-16433" class="wp-caption-text">Tourist boat navigating on murky Amazon water in wildlife reserve</p></div> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">One of the biggest pushes for the industry is coming from the private sector. For example, Brazil’s Luxury Travel Association includes 31 hotels, where the vast majority have some sort of eco-friendly certificate or sustainable activities. The group even hosts a prize, the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Sustainable Vision Award</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, for the most innovative projects in the field. Another project, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">Coletivo Muda</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, is focusing on bringing attention to sustainable tourism.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">This year, the Cristalino Lodge was among the finalists. The hotel, located in Alta Floresta, in the countryside of Mato Grosso, protects a natural conservation area of 44 square miles of forests and maintains the Cristalino Foundation. The organization develops “initiatives geared to environmental education, human development, creating economic alternatives for the local population, minimizing environmental impacts, research, and sustainability in the region”, as seen on its website. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Another example of eco-luxury enterprise in an off-the-grid location is Pousada Trijunção, a lodge located in the middle of the Cerrado, Brazil&#8217;s tropical savannah-like region. The property spans three different states—Bahia, Minas Gerais, and Goiás—and provides several environmental activities for tourists, such as birdwatching and guided bike tours. They also breed wild animals, such as tortoises and birds, for their future reintroduction into nature. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">What do these hotels have in common, besides their exotic locations? They look to provide experiences that go beyond the “saving water, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">light</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and using fewer towels” approach that many people still consider as the main pillars of ecotourism. The modern approach to luxury ecotourism, recalls Ms. Duék, is much more about trying to balance the environment and the project, without forgetting the local communities. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“The first concern must be the local community. You are occupying their area. Are they integrated into your project in any way? This doesn&#8217;t have to be by direct jobs, it can also be done indirectly, such as taking tourists to shop at local stores.” </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">It is important to keep an eye on the difference between ecotourism and predatory tourism, especially when it comes to interacting with wildlife. Last year, the Federal Prosecution Office recommended hotels in the state of Amazonas not let tourists interact with wild animals in the Amazon rainforest, especially if they pay for it. If not done with the proper authorizations, this may be considered a crime, as well as posing a threat to the environment and the safety of tourists.   </span></p> <h2>Eco-luxury tourism: in search of balance</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">The paradise of Fernando de Noronha is considered a hot spot for “luxury-meets-green” tourism. The archipelago, located about 500 kilometers off Brazil’s coast, is a common travel destination for famous Brazilians, such as soccer star Neymar Jr. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">To protect the islands, the tourists must pay a fee of around BRL 70 per day of travel. Regulation is also very strict, with the prohibition of using or selling disposal plastic on the islands, as well as taking any natural material from the wild. Some locations are also closed for research purposes.   </span><span style="font-weight: 400;"><br /> </span><span style="font-weight: 400;"><br /> </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">What&#8217;s more, the archipelago&#8217;s limits are being tested due to high demand. The number of tourists doubled to 100,000 a year in ten years, while the management plan of the islands stipulates a maximum of 89 thousand. The government of Pernambuco stipulates 104 thousand people as the limit and is increasing the number of tourists to the islands. The bigger influx is causing queues and time limits in some attractions, as well as more serious troubles, such as water scarcity, </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">as seen by the newspaper Folha de S.Paulo. </span></a></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Ms. Duék sees Noronha’s tentative to limit visitors as a way to protect it, but raises questions about how sustainable the “glamour” of the archipelago is. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">“It is an attempt, but I can’t say this model has tipped the scales. As far as I&#8217;m concerned, the locals live in very tough conditions and the island is receiving a different profile of visitor than it welcomed before, tourists that may not be so concerned about the environment,” says the journalist. “Around the world, we are seeing the phenomenon of ‘overtourism,’ bringing tourists that are not necessarily concerned about protecting the environment they are visiting. These destinations must ask themselves, &#8216;is it worth it?’” </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">For Fernando Kanni, protected areas pose a bigger challenge for tourism, as these kinds of environments are often more fragile. However, finding the balance is crucial to create a better form of development. “Without a quality experience, the enterprise is in danger and without the enterprise, social and environmental opportunities are lost.”

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