FEATURE STORY

Arrivederci, Roma. Bom dia, Brasil!

October 25, 2014


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Urubici, a rural village in southern Brazil. 

Mariana Kaipper Ceratti/World Bank

Tourism moves away from the first world to create opportunities for Latin America

Would you spend your vacation in a place with roads in poor condition, no cellphone signal or internet for the chance to enjoy verdant mountains, clean air, crystalline waters, a pleasant climate and simple meals prepared with fresh local ingredients?

Even a decade later, 54-year-old Paulina Stange is still surprised by the number of people who would gladly spend their holiday in Urubici, a rural village with a population of 10,000 in Santa Catarina, in southern Brazil.

"I began to receive visitors in a simple house without electricity 10 kilometers from my farm. They liked the tranquility,” recalls Paulina. Since then, facilities have improved considerably: the telephone still does not work properly, but the road that goes through Urubici is now in excellent condition and visitors can use a portable modem to connect to the internet.

Paulina no longer farms. She now has four chalets (with electricity!) and a colonial café at the inn she opened in 2010 on her farm, where the local landscape and culture (a mix of Brazilian, German, Italian and Latvian) attract growing numbers of tourists.

Tourism with identity

The history and challenges of the Stange family are common to many families in Latin America and rural communities around the world that have the potential to attract travelers. That is good news for the development of communities such as Urubici, as the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) stated when it declared 2014 as the year of small communities.

After all, the work of transporting, housing and feeding tourists accounts for nearly 10 percent of global GDP, generates revenues of more than US$ 1.3 billion (equivalent to 30 percent of world service exports) and creates one of every 11 jobs. Why not extend these benefits to small communities that need to improve their standard of living?

"Tourism can be a tool which allows communities to pursue development without losing their identity, while generating income and opportunities promoting local development, including in rural areas, thus fighting migration to cities,” according to the UNWTO.

The Organization also stressed that, besides fighting poverty, tourism promotes gender equality —it gives employment and income opportunities to women – sustainability and associations for development.

The UNWTO is not the only international organization that recognizes the power of tourism to fight poverty: the World Bank is also supporting the industry through a series of projects in Brazil, Peru, Panama and other Latin American countries.


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Paulina Stange (left) and her family. 

Mariana Kaipper Ceratti/World Bank.


More competitiveness

Beginning in 2015, for the first time in history, developing countries will receive more tourists than the main tourist destinations of developed countries, including Paris, Rome and New York, according to the UNWTO. By 2030, an estimated 58 percent of international travelers will visit developing countries of Latin America, Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

However, in order for communities to take advantage of this shifting trend, each country must decide how to promote the sector and how to improve conditions so that inhabitants of small communities can participate in the tourism industry.

In the small Brazilian town, for example, Paulina Stange and her family, along with nine other families, created a rural tourism association, which today receives funds and training from the Santa Catarina Rural Program (financed by the World Bank). The association brings together cafés, bed and breakfast inns, crafts shops and even a modest farm offering organic produce.

Until 2016, the program will work with families that manage tourism enterprises to expand and professionalize their businesses. Additionally, roads will be improved to increase the competitiveness of small enterprises. A total of 25,000 rural families will benefit.

"Agro tourism was included in the program on the request of farm families. They saw the demand, particularly among tourists living in the state, and organized to meet that demand,” says World Bank agricultural economist Diego Arias.

Exchange of experiences

"For those who have always worked in agriculture, employment in the tourism industry poses fewer difficulties, produces higher income and provides an opportunity to exchange experiences with visitors,” says Claudia Schmitz, rural expert of the Santa Catarina government.

Paulina reports that while she previously spent her days growing banana, onion, corn and apple, today she never goes for more than two weeks without receiving foreign visitors.

"People have come from Argentina, the United States, France, Germany and even Albania,” she says, enthusiastically. She has managed to serve them all with the help of her husband and her 29-year-old daughter Mariani, who has a degree in business administration. "Tourism has given me a life project and has demonstrated that the countryside offers as many opportunities as the city,” says Mariani.


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