Rio de Janeiro is one of the world’s great tourist cities for the following reasons:
- It provides the best-known images of Brazil, a country that is widely regarded as exotic, with a ‘liberated’ lifestyle, and an economy full of promise for the future.
- The spectacular beauty of its setting, between one of the world’s finest harbours – Guanabara Bay – and a number of granite peaks, including Sugar Loaf and Corcovado, which is crowned by the famous statue of Christ the Redeemer.
- Some 80 kilometres of fine sandy beaches, the most celebrated being Copacabana and the more fashionable Ipanema. These are ideal for people-watching (but not for bathing due to the heavy Atlantic surf). The beach is a fashion parade, and although beachwear is minimal, ‘topless’ sunbathing by female visitors is regarded with disapproval. The need for ‘Cariocas’ to look good is all-important, so not surprisingly cosmetic surgery is a lucrative industry. Some beaches are used by certain social groups, or for a particular activity, such as Copacabana for football and volleyball, Arpoador for surfing.
- The uninhibited dance rhythms and extravagant costume parades of Carnaval, one of the greatest shows on Earth, which serves to break down social barriers between rich and poor in a country where millions do not even earn the $80 a month minimum wage.
To complement these resources the city has a good transport infrastructure, including two major airports, and world-class hotels that are concentrated in the Copacabana area. Yet, despite these resources, in the last quarter of the twentieth century Rio reached the later stages of the tourism area life cycle and began to suffer from a number of problems. These are related to the fall in tourist demand for Rio, the changing nature of that demand and competition from other, newer destinations. In addition, many of the city’s problems stem from the fact that not only was Rio replaced by Brasilia as the national capital, and the loss of political influence this entails, but also São Paulo has overtaken Rio as a commercial centre. At the same time the city still acts as a magnet for a massive influx of poor rural immigrants, while the rugged topography makes it difficult to carry out physical planning for growth. Aside from the favelas (shanty towns on the hillsides), Rio is divided by the Serra da Carioca mountain range into a northern zone (zona norte) and a southern zone (zona sul), where most of the tourist attractions are situated.
In response to these problems, Rio embarked upon a major regeneration initiative. This fits in well with the Brazilian government’s aims of:
- creating a modern and efficient state
- reducing social and regional inequalities
- modernizing the economy
- enhancing Brazil’s competitiveness in world markets.