Tourism in Natal suffers with lack of planning
Newspaper Tribuna do Norte published today, December 30th, an article called "Lack of planning is the biggest problem of tourism in Rio Grande do Norte".
The report describes how Natal still receives many tourists, attracted by a set of features not easily found anywhere in the world: sun, beaches, peaceful people, absence of cataclisms. If there were professional management of the Tourism business in Natal, the area would be one of the most important tourist centers in the world; however, because tourism in the Goverment levels is commanded more by personal interests than professional merits, the result is a lack of planning (and actions) which brings more and more uncertainty to the future of Natal as a world tourism destination.
The text below is paraphrased from the original.
Note from Natal-Brazil: last year (2007) was quieter than the previous one (2006); and this year, so far, is quieter than last year. Natal is still sunny, beautiful, cheap and peaceful, and this downtrend can turn out to be benefic for visitors.
"The charter flight coming from England is 15 hours late. This is not news neither for the passengers embarking in London, nor for the staff of Infraero (airport management) which work in Natal.
But there is one thing which surprises Gina Robinson, a representative of the Secretary of Tourism of Rio Grande do Norte who arrives in the flight: a escalator which goes the wrong way. When passengers disembarked, at 5 am in the morning, there was nobody to provide assistance, and the only way to get upstairs was climbing the escalator which was rolling down. As the passengers were not used to open doors without authorization, they were surprised to see Gina calling for someone from staff to open the doors and start working with the luggage.
And there are more things in the Airport Augusto Severo that need fixing. The air conditioning, for example, has been broken for months (in a city where temperatures about 100 degrees F or 35 degrees C are common); the cost of fixing it would be R$ 200 thousand (about US$ 110 thousand), but Infraero doesn't seem to have the money (the boarding tax in Brazil, which goes entirely to Infraero, is one of the highest in the world). According to Mário Barreto, President of Via Costeira Hotels Association, the airport is a wreckage.
One of the reasons is the lack of planning. The tourism authorities are trying to raise numbers for a report about the number of tourists coming to Natal, but not even this seems easy. Once again, there are talks about a joint action between the city and the State (someone discovered that there are no bus lines between the airport to the city, which obliges passengers to pay outrageous taxi fares or pay for closed packages to tour operators); this time, talks include the help of Federal funds, as the Ministry of Tourism also seems to have found out that Tourism can be a good business for Brazil.
And, as in previous years, the lack of reliable statistics creates rumors about the actual number of guests in the hotels of Natal. Every year, hotel owners claim that business are not doing well, and ask for more Government action, support and subsides. In the beginning of 2007, the Association of Hotels forecasted "the worst year for the hotels in 21 years", but at the end of the year several hotels in Via Hosteira claimed a "very successful year". Now, again, the hotels say that "2008 won't be good; the dollar is down, the air traffic in Brazil is still a mess, more and more tourists are staying in cruising ships (rather than hotels)". But, as Tribuna says, there are more and more hotels being built, and very few have been closed down.
Hotels are again asking for more promotion: "we have to attract again the European passengers". The Secretary of Tourism says that the priority should be attract the Brazilian travelers, particularly the business travelers."