Brazil’s big adventure

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Por Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
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If you are looking for new sensations on a tourism trip, Brazil offers options you just can’t miss. As adventure tourism grows in popularity, we asked Ricardo Fragoso, General Officer at ABNT, ISO’s member in Brazil, why the country is fast becoming a world reference for outdoor activities.

What are the two direct assets of tourism? In addition to physical infrastructure, nature and culture are also key elements when it comes to sustainability in the business, helping to offset poverty in local populations. As regards its tourism industry, Brazil is still proving itself. With an area of 8.5 million km2 and over 200 million inhabitants, the country is seeking a route to socioeconomic viability and, more recently, for ways to conserve its natural environment.

This is an arduous task, but the determination of the government and the Brazilian people has overcome many of the problems by working together to lead the country towards a future of development and prosperity. In this context, sustainable tourism presents itself as one of the forces capable of contributing to economic development while, at the same time, helping to preserve Brazil’s priceless natural heritage.


Canopy tree climbing in the Amazon rainforest.
Adventure tourists use well-secured cables to enjoy tree-top views in the Amazon rainforest in Brazil.

Adventure tourism in one of the most important markets in international tourism, and Brazil’s huge territory and environmental variety means that it is able to offer unique opportunities for nature tourism and open-air leisure activities. According to the Ministry of Tourism, in 2018 the country received almost seven million international visitors, which produced over USD 3.2 billion of foreign currency revenue in the first six months alone. Domestic tourism, for its part, totalled over 200 million travels, although these only refer to around 60 million people.

Today, Brazil’s tourism industry generates income for nearly seven million people, mainly in fields related to accommodation, tourism agencies, airlines and other types of transportation, as well as restaurants and leisure facilities. But in order to make Brazilian nature tourism a commercial success, there needs to be investment in quality infrastructure, the training of guides, and in providing safe and efficient services at a fair price. Otherwise, tourists will choose other destinations.

Leading the way

A great deal has already been done: our technical standard for adventure tourism has been globally recognized by governments worldwide and used as the basis for the first international regulations for safety management in adventure tourism – ISO 21101. It’s a source of great national pride that most of the standards for adventure tourism published so far by ISO are based on Brazilian standards developed by ABNT, ISO’s member for the country, and the work of the Brazilian Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism Association (ABETA), a not-for-profit civil entity that brings together ecotourism and adventure tourism companies whose main goals are working in a professional, sustainable and innovative way.

Photo: ABNT
Ricardo Fragoso
Ricardo Fragoso, General Officer at ABNT, ISO’s member in Brazil.

Prior to that, in 2008, a partnership between ABNT and the Ministry of Tourism had given the industry free consultation of technical standards. The tourism minister of the day, Marta Suplicy, justified the initiative by explaining that “nowhere in the world can adventure tourism exist without standardization”. These International Standards have helped Brazil expand its field of activity by drawing on technical and safety resources for best practice in adventure tourism. In addition to three ISO standards on adventure tourism, Brazil has also adopted 11 ISO standards on recreational diving and plans to incorporate two more in its portfolio.

All this standardization work caught the attention of big players in the adventure tourism market, such as managers of nature reserves and forests, public managers and other stakeholders, who are now interested in implementing sustainable practices. We currently have 38 Brazilian standards published for this segment, making Brazil a world reference for safety in ecotourism and adventure tourism.

Big adventures, small footprint

Sustainability is one issue that has been at the centre of our discussions in ISO. The most recent standard published is ISO 20611, Adventure tourism – Good practices for sustainability – Requirements and recommendations, which takes a long view of the sector’s challenges in order to protect the natural environment by minimizing any potential negative effects and engage local communities through better-paid jobs.

But most of all, sustainability is about strengthening the tourist experience in the place of destination while valuing local communities’ culture and customs. To that end, Brazil will soon be endorsing as a national adoption ISO 14785 on tourist information centres, which can be used by tourist offices across the country to deliver better service to visitors with quality information on the Brazilian hotspots most favoured by tourists.

The national adoption of ISO International Standards has brought considerable added value to Brazil’s adventure tourism segment. For instance, the scale and extent of accidents have been significantly reduced and tourists are more aware of the safety protocols for accident prevention, which include the high-quality training of guides involved in outdoor activities, often in very remote locations.

Little beautiful girl climbs on rope harness in a summer city park.

Putting safety first

The Brazilian government, through the Ministry of Tourism, has put the emphasis on safety. Brazil’s Safe Adventure Program is an initiative of the Ministry of Tourism in partnership with Sebrae, an organization dedicated to small business empowerment, and ABETA, Brazil’s adventure travel tourism association. Under the programme, companies must obtain a safety certificate in adventure tourism to guarantee that visitors can indulge in outdoor activities in a sustainable way and with the most rigorous safety standards.

Standards also have an impact on local suppliers and all those working in emergency services. As part of the ABNT safety management system, an emergency service plan has done wonders to enforce the implementation of a management system, mainly among small companies, which account for 98 % of businesses in the adventure tourism sector. Tourists are always willing to pay a little more for activities that are carried out to strict safety standards, with skilled professionals and equipment that is subject to regular and stringent maintenance, as they see the added value of the tourism product that is being offered.

Since its implementation in 2005, the Safe Adventure Program has helped many companies integrate the good practices of technical standards. These include Campo dos Sonhos and Parque dos Sonhos, two rural retreats in the São Paulo area that boast an integrated system combining both sustainable accommodation and safety in adventure tourism. Today, they are seen as a reference in Brazil in terms of sustainable adventure tourism, with a comprehensive offering that comprises services to disabled visitors or those with limited mobility, as well as a host of activities for children, teenagers, families and the elderly.

Boat trips to the waterfalls of Lagos de Furnas, Minas Gerais, are a popular tourist activity in Brazil.

Nas Alturas, a specialist eco-tour operator in the Chapada Diamantina, also caters for travellers looking for safe and environmentally responsible tours in the area. Offering everything from day hikes to longer overnight excursions to explore the region’s unique natural beauty, the company enforces safety standards and disseminates good practices to its entire network of activity providers. Nas Alturas is an impressive example of a sustainable tourism initiative that promotes social inclusion through encouraging local hires, the conservation of natural resources and the respect for cultures and peoples as a means of stimulating local economic development.

Standardization has, by all accounts, improved the way tourism is being offered in Brazil. The country has earned itself a place in the adventure tourism segment by offering an array of companies that meet international quality requirements. This consolidates a soft adventure circuit capable of attracting and welcoming national and international tourists, all converts to the idea that Brazil is more than just beaches and sun.

Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis

+41 22 749 03 25
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Elizabeth Gasiorowski-Denis
Editor-in-Chief of ISOfocus