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Brazil risks own goal with high WCup prices Nation decides against opening to foreign carriers

RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 3, (Agencies): Eyeing a massive boost to tourism and prestige, Brazil hoped it had won the jackpot in earning the right to host the next World Cup and summer Olympics. But in a country racing to upgrade sagging infrastructure, some analysts say eye-watering prices could hit tourism hard — and long-term. “Brazil is going to price itself out of the market,” if it overcharges fans for accommodation and transport, said economics professor Wolfgang Maennig, who has closely studied the impact of major sports events on host economies. Maennig pointed to dozens of hotels asking up to four times their normal rates for next year’s World Cup while Brazilian marketing firm Mundi highlighted airline price hikes of up to 1,000 percent. That led President Dilma Rousseff in October to set up a price-monitoring panel, with Flavio Dino, president of state tourism board Embratur, commenting: “The problem is what happens post 2016 (after the Rio Olympics). Brazil must not be seen as a pricy destination or we shall kill the golden goose for decades.”
Hamburg University’s Maennig said Brazil was slipping into a price trap.

“They are risking making similar mistakes to (2010 hosts) South Africa,” where “unrealistic demand expectations pushed up prices and a Competition Commission watchdog acted too late”. Maennig cautioned against expecting a tourism revenue glut amid reports that fans in countries such as neighboring Argentina, expected to come in numbers, may simply fly in and out again on match day to avoid hotels. He predicts many non-football tourists will likely avoid Brazil next June and subtracting their numbers will mean a net influx of much less than the 600,000 foreign visitors officially expected. “Even at Germany 2006 ... there were only 100,000 or so extra visitors who stayed overnight,” says Maennig, warning sport is not a means of promoting economic growth. Brazil’s media have been quick to highlight clogged airports, poor transport links, thousands of kms (miles) between venues and soaring prices.

Meanwhile, Brazil has decided against opening more routes for foreign air carriers for next year’s World Cup, certain it can handle the millions of sports fans who will use airplanes to get around South America’s biggest country. In an interview with The Associated Press, Civil Aviation Secretary Wellington Moreira Franco said the idea of expanding routes for foreign carriers “was never considered.” Moreira Franco said that Brazilian carriers can handle the load with 600,000 foreigners and more than 3 million Brazilians expected to head to matches. Some fear Brazil could be stretched, its creaking airports already strained. The country has limited rail service, the road network is underdeveloped and overtaxed, and flying will be the only alternative for most traveling to the 12 host cities. The tournament opens June 12 in Sao Paulo and wraps up July 13 in Rio de Janeiro.


Brazil is just a little smaller than the United States or China, and it can take 10 hours to fly the 2,000 miles (3,200 kms) from the Amazon city of Manaus in the northwest to Porto Alegre in the southeast — depending on the connections.
Moreira Franco said plans should be announced in the next few days, perhaps pegged to the outcome of Friday’s World Cup draw, when teams will be placed by lot into eight four-team groups.
“We will improve and increase the aerial grid to offer more flights,” he said. “With that, not only will we take care of the demand, but it will cause a decrease in prices (of tickets).”
Moreira Franco’s statement contrasts with that of Flavio Dino, president of the state-run Brazilian tourism agency Embratur, who said in a recent interview that the government was considering more foreign carriers.
In this continent-sized country, air travel is virtually the only option but is hampered by congested airports, a shortage of domestic routes and maddening red tape.
Getting around on land is just as bad, with inadequate public transport, congested and poorly maintained roads and no alternative train service.
Yet Brazil is planning to welcome nearly 600,000 foreign visitors during next year’s World Cup, in addition to three million Brazilians who will jet between the 12 host cities during the high-profile sporting event.
So organizers are racing to expand and modernize airports, and improve air service, while the government negotiates with domestic airlines for additional flights and new connections at affordable prices.
If a fan wants to follow Brazil in the group phase, which begins in Sao Paulo with the Cup’s opening game on June 12, he would then have to travel 2,370 kms (1481 miles) to the northeastern city of Fortaleza, and later another 1700 kms to Brasilia. It would be possible to travel overland but each trip would take more than 24 hours. In effect, air travel is the only realistic option in a country 17 times the size of Spain.
But buying domestic air tickets is no easy task, especially for a foreigner who very often cannot do so online if he does not have the required Brazilian documentation.
And some fares will show increases of up to 1000 percent during the World Cup, the first to be held in Brazil since 1950.


But a spokesman for the Brazilian Airlines Association (ABEAR) told AFP that after the Dec 6 draw in Bahia, where the 32 teams will be grouped into eight separate foursomes, “the offer of flights will be reviewed” and there will be new ranges of accessible fares.
With the World Cup set to kick off six months from now, Brazilian officials see street protests and resurgent criminal violence in some of Rio’s slums as top security concerns.
This Latin American powerhouse is pulling out all the stops to ensure security for the hundreds of thousands of visitors expected for the planet’s most-watched sporting event, the first to be held in Brazil since 1950.
“You can protest over causes which you see as just ... but remember that we are staging an event that is very crucial for our country. So treat visitors well,” Ricardo Trade, head of the World Cup’s Local Organizaing Commitee, said recently.
Brazil is used to organizing mammoth events such as the Rio carnival or Pope Francis’ visit, which drew three million pilgrims on Copacabana beach in July.
But it remains one of the world’s most violent countries, with a murder rate of 27 per 100,000 inhabitants.
Last year, a strategic plan worked out with FIFA, football’s world governing body, spelled out the key areas to protect, coordination between public and private security firms and assessed the main threats from organized crime, terrorist attacks and football hooliganism.
It was activated for the Confederations Cup, a dry run for next year’s Wold Cup, in June.
But authorities had not anticipated June’s social unrest when more than one million Brazilians took to the streets nationwide to demand more spending on public transport, health and education.
The demonstrators also railed against the high cost of staging the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Summer Olympics.


The protests have since petered out but have occasionally turned more violent as “black bloc” anarchists went on the rampage in major cities such as Rio and Sao Paulo.
But authorities are bracing for a possible resumption of social turmoil during the World Cup — scheduled from June 12 to July 13 — and during the national elections in October when President Dilma Rousseff will seek re-election.
“There will be demonstrations,” said a government official. “The question is: How big will they be ?”
In late October, the government announced it was setting up an intelligence task force to thwart and control possible violence during demonstrations.
Authorities also moved to upgrade the police’s crowd control capabilities. French riot police officers were sent to Rio to share their know-how with their Brazilian colleagues.
Another source of concern is a resurgence of criminal violence in some of Rio’s hilltop shantytowns, where beginning in 2008, police restored control by evicting the drug gangs that had held sway for decades.
To date, 36 so-called police pacification units (UPPs) have been deployed in more than 180 of the city’s 750 favelas. By next year 12,500 police officers will be mobilised in 40 such units.
The muscular “pacification” drive led to a 40 percent drop in the murder rate but the police officers — some of whom are violent and corrupt — deployed in these underprivileged communities are not always welcome.
Over the past months, there has been an increase in robberies and night shootouts as well as the reappearance of heavily armed drug traffickers in these “pacified” favelas.
And in recent days, a new phenomenon appeared with roving gangs of rowdy youths pouncing on Rio beachgoers and perpetrating mass robberies in broad daylight.


Police immediately beefed up beach security and the US consulate in Rio issued a travel advisory warning its nationals of “increased incidents of crime in areas frequented by tourists.”
Meanwhile, a top drug trafficker jailed in Rio recently told police about alleged plans by “Red Command”, the city’s top crime syndicate, to regain control of pacified slums.
He notably pointed to renewed contacts between the Red Command and Sao Paulo’s powerful PCC (First Capital Command) prison-based criminal gang.
So authorities are not taking any chances and have said they will deploy twice the number of security personnel (54,734) used during the Confederations Cup.
Some units have been trained by agents from the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to respond to any external threats. “Brazil is not targeted by terrorists,” said Michel Misse, an expert on violence at Rio de Janeiro Federal University. But officials have vowed to remain vigilant.

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