Natal Brazil

Information about the city of Natal, in Brazil.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Natal losing space in international tourism

According to the last figures published by Infraero, Natal is being less and less visited by foreign travelers.
In January this year, the airport of Natal received 17,699 international visitors; the number is down from 23,770 in January of 2008.
Brazil as a whole was visited by 185,818 foreigners in January of this year, more than the 162,075 of January 2008.

In the Northeast of Brazil, where States compete for the preference of visitors looking for sun and beach, Natal also lost ground; Salvador had a bit more than 40,000 visitors, Fortaleza a bit more than 27,000 and Recife a bit more than 26,000 visitors.

Just about three years ago, when this blog started to be published, Natal was the second most visited city in the Northeast (behind giant Salvador).
It was easy to see entire families (parents, kids, babies) of Northern Europeans (easily recognizable by their aspects and their education) walking in Ponta Negra.

Where have they gone? Many charter flights which used to land in Natal now are going to Fortaleza and Recife; Natal had charter flights everyday, now has a couple a week; there is only one airline carrier (Portuguese TAP) flying into Natal (in Salvador, Fortaleza and Recife, there are, besides TAP, American carriers flying to the USA).

And why have the tourists gone away?
I had the opportunity to attend an event about tourism in Natal (which was opened for everybody) sponsored by newspaper Tribuna do Norte, the Governments of Natal and Rio Grande do Norte, and the local tourism trade (hotels, agencies, etc).
The tourist trade says that the main reason to cause the fall in visitors numbers is "lack of divulgation", or "lack of marketing" of Natal as a destination.
What they are saying, basicly, is that the Government should spend more tax-payers money in marketing, because then people would learn about Natal and then would flock to see our paradisiac beaches and our beautiful city.
The Government agrees that more money should be spend in marketing, but weighs that the private sector should make their own investments, too. However, some high staff of Government are not unhappy to take trips to Europe to participate in tourism fairs and events.

Meanwhile:
- the website of the Secretary of Tourism of Natal is in Portuguese only;
- after visitors arrive in Natal (and face the unprepared staff and the poor maintenance of the airport), information is even more scarce; most people (including hotel staff, restaurant staff and taxi drivers) still can't communicate in English; official signalization is still poor (a foreigner visiting Fort of Reis Magos still can't find any guide in English).
- Most tourists take trips to the beaches and get fascinated, but they don't want to take the trip twice; after two or three days, they need other options of what to do. In Fortaleza and Recife, multilingual leaflets published by the Government are freely distributed in hotels and restaurants, with hundreds of suggestions for visitors; in Natal, visitors depend on tips from the hotel clerk or the taxi driver;
- Natal has probably more and better hotels than any other city in the Northeast; however, prices are still higher than elsewhere; prices of real estate sky rocketed in Natal, which reflects in the prices of everything, particularly hotels. Natal has much fewer restaurants than neighbor cities; gastronomic travelers have better options in Fortaleza, Recife or even Pipa;
- Natal continues to be a city of the day; prostitution is not so blatant as some time ago, but nightlife options for families and couples are still poor (Zas-Tras was a famous regional show, but it was closed down because the theater was sold and a condo was built).

So, there are factors other than lack of marketing which explain why visitors are not coming to Natal.