Thursday, October 27, 2011

Gastro-tourism Takes Off in Brazil

Tourism is a enormously important industry in Brazil. Visitors to Brazil from all around the world come in their millions every year to experience the natural beauty of this country and to participate in one of the most welcoming and enchanting cultures on the planet. In 2010 more than 5 million foreign tourists traveled to Brazil and while in the country spent a collective total of US$5.9 billion.

These are big numbers, but they are dwarfed by the size of the domestic tourist market in Brazil. There are a lot of Brazilians, just under 200 million of them, and apparently a good number of them like to visit other parts of their own country. Domestic tourist numbers in 2010 were five times the number of international visitors, totalling 51 million visits. While traveling outside their own state, Brazilians spent approximately US$25 billion in 2010. That's not chump change.

The federal govenment of Brazil and the governments of the 27 states of Brazil realize the economic importance of the Brazilian tourist industry, and there is a very active Brazilian national tourist bureau (EMBRATUR) and many state and municipal tourist bureaus throughout the country.

These tourist bureaus mount publicity campaigns inside and outside Brazil to stimulate tourism to Brazil. Traditionally the focus of these campaigns, which include TV commercials and print advertising, has been the elements of Brazilian that are the most well-known to tourists - the beaches, the natural wonders, the historic cities, the music and Carnaval. However, recently we've noticed that tourist bureaus have begun promoting what one might call gastro-tourism, at least to the domestic sector of the market. There is a large population, well-educated and well-off, in Brazil that wants to experience the culinary culture of regions of Brazil other than their own, and these new campaigns attempt to appeal to this sector.

Everyone knows, for example, that the afro-Brazilian cuisine of the state of Bahia is one of the most important cultural features of that state when it comes to attracting tourists. Every tourist who visits Bahia knows they must try acarajé  when they are there, and often it's the desire to have another acarajé that brings them back.

In the most recent issue of the Brazilian food and wine magazine Prazeres da Mesa, there is a full-page ad from the state tourist bureau of the northeastern state of Pernambuco which illustrates this trend of  promoting gastro-tourism. Instead of photographs of blue seas and deserted palm-lined beaches, or of the follies of Carnaval in Recife, the photos in the ad are of two of the most famous desserts linked to the culinary traditions of Pernambuco - bolo de rolo and bolo Souza Leão. The headline of the ad reads "Along with sugar, the Portuguese brought the sin of gluttony [to Pernambuco]. And so they had to build the [historic, baroque] churches." The text at the bottom of the ad explains - "The passion of Pernambucanos for sweets is, without a doubt, a heritage of Portuguese colonization. Sugar-cane cultivation gave birth to, in the kitchens of our sugar-cane plantations, a tradition of cakes and sweets. Recipes that are part of our history and, even today, a part of our table. Come try them."

This is sophisticated marketing of a destination aimed at a sophisticated audience. An audience that knows how important sweet-cooking is to the culinary traditions of Pernambuco, that recognizes the iconic recipes and one that might be tempted to travel to Pernambuco to sample bolo de rolo and bolo Souza Leão  in the land of their origin.

Here at Flavors of Brazil, we're all in favor of gastro-tourism and are enthusiastic participants ourselves. In the past twelve months, we've taken gastronomically-focused trips to Rio de Janeiro and São Luís, Maranhão, and reported on them on this blog. After seeing the ad pictured above, maybe our first gastronomic expedition for 2012 should be to Pernambuco. Who knows?

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