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Very few people within the tourism industry can have failed to notice that the 20th FIFA World Cup will kick off in two weeks time on 12th June 2014.
The twelve host cities in Brazil are bracing themselves for an estimated 3.7 million tourists – both domestic and international – to follow the beautiful game.
But what will the impact of all those tourists be on the country, its people and its future?
When countries host global events – like the London 2012 Olympics – the assumption is often that the exposure and the tourism will massively boost a country’s profile, hospitality industry and economy. So far that does seem to be the case for Great Britain.
But it’s been no secret – and widely reported by the global media – that many in Brazil are less excited by the prospect of so much more expenditure on visitors to the country, than is being spent on services to the people who live there.
The Brazilian government has invested massively in the national stadia and infrastructure – including ports and airports - to host the World Cup. It’s estimated they have spent US $11.7 billion (25.6 bn Real) to host it, including US $4 billion on the new stadia alone. They have invested in security, in sustainability programmes, and in media and marketing. They say thousands of jobs have already been created, and they estimate that the 3.7 million tourists will spend 6.7 billion Brazilian Real during the month of games.
But with just two weeks to go before the event begins, protests are ongoing in the country highlighting the comparative lack of spending on health and education programmes. Over one million people have taken to the streets in previous demonstrations to protest about inflation and what they see as unfair spending on the World Cup. The government says no money has been diverted from health and education to fund the World Cup, and that spending in these sectors has increased.
But will the legacy of the event – and the upcoming Rio 2016 Olympics – bring more positives to the country than negatives?
The government is banking on more positive outcomes. They have said: “It is not simply about preparing Brazil for the 20th FIFA World Cup, but to use the event as a platform to accelerate the development of the country. Since May 2009, when the 12 host cities were confirmed, the consistent effort in planning and executing strategic programmes has triggered a development process that transcends any sporting parameter.” They believe the event will support 700,000 new permanent and temporary jobs and add a 30 bn Real boost to the country’s GDP.
Key to the whole debate – and to the developmental legacy of the event – is the tourism industry. In many ways they are at the frontline of how Brazil will be perceived by its new visitors, and whether the development in tourism will continue long after the games have faded from memory.
We know that many in hospitality take their responsibilities to sustainable development and the communities within which they operate very seriously. We know that globally the tourism industry provides jobs for one in eleven people and that it continues to grow. The International Tourism Partnership works with global hotel chains to make sustainability a cornerstone of that growth, and many of the hotel companies we work with are partners in the Youth Career Initiative (YCI).
YCI works in several countries around the world – including Brazil – to help improve the employment and education opportunities for disadvantaged young people. Working with NGOs to identify young people who want to work but for whom opportunities are limited, YCI partners with hotels in their neighbourhoods which offer them six months of training, mentoring and real-world work experience. 85% of the trainees go on to employment or further education.
The Brazilian government has also recognised the role that the hospitality industry can play in providing employment opportunities for its citizens. It created PRONATEC – a National Programme for Access to Technical Education and Employment.
A partnership between the Ministries of Tourism and Education, the programme is one of the crucial actions the government has taken to prepare Brazil for the big events that the country is hosting. The aim is to give employees the skills to provide a high quality and competent service for visitors in order to strengthen the country's image as an ideal tourist destination.
The Ministries took Pronatec to the tourism sector where the programme will help those already working in tourism as well as those who wish to qualify in the industry. A range of training activities linked to incoming tourism, in addition to courses in English, Spanish and Braille, are offered and participants will also receive student aid, food and travel assistance.
More than 166,000 people enrolled on the programme. Additionally taxi drivers, tour agents, civil and military police, city police and fire departments are all being trained to welcome visitors during the World Cup.
Whilst some ministers have claimed the World Cup will help generate more than three million jobs in the country, others have sounded a more cautionary note. Neil Shearing, Chief Economist at Capital Economics Emerging Markets said: "Neither the immediate economic impact of the World Cup or its legacy should be expressive. Even the investments in airports, transport and urban infrastructure do not reach 0.5% of GDP. After decades of little investment in these areas, that is not what will alleviate the structural bottlenecks of the Brazilian economy.”
Brazilians themselves are also un-persuaded. Only 31% believe the event will bring more benefits than losses whilst 49% believe it will bring more losses than benefits.
In the end the true and accurate legacy of the World Cup and Rio 2016 will only be ascertained after several years’ analysis. What we do know is that for every legitimate job created by these events there is a chance of exploitation of another living in poverty. For this reason and in order to ensure that the World Cup and the Olympics bring mostly net positive tourism impacts to Brazil and its people, it’s crucial that those in the hospitality sector and tourists themselves are aware of the risks and act to prevent and minimise them.
Please read our series of articles on the impact of the World Cup and how tourists and hoteliers can make a difference, over the coming weeks.