Fortaleza is blessed. With white sandy beaches stretching for miles on end along the azure Atlantic Ocean, abundant sunshine, a rich cuisine, and a warm and friendly population, Brazil’s fourth largest city has become one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Moreover, thanks to investment in infrastructure and campaigning, Fortaleza is quickly becoming a booming regional business center as well.
Although city officials recognize that there really is no need to attract more tourists – a task already achieved (2010 saw 2.5 million visitors as opposed to the 700,000 in 1995) – a municipal tourism board was established in 2005 to improve the quality of tourism. Called SETFOR, this board relies on a generous budget to train leisure and hospitality professionals and promote the city’s lesser-known charms.
“We want to invest in new segments of tourism which will bring value to the city and help create skilled jobs,” says Moacir Soares, Deputy Secretary for Tourism. “We don’t want to focus exclusively on the ‘sun and beach’ tourism stereotype, but diversify the offer of tourism products with cultural and eco-tourism products, for example.”
Luizianne de Oliveira Lins, mayor of Fortaleza, highlights the strong points of the tourism industry (which employs some 75,000 people and represents 10% of the state of Ceara’s GDP), and its utility in formalizing the economy and helping balance the distribution of wealth. “Fortaleza is today the northeastern leader in creating the largest number of formal jobs. The tourism sector is including informal workers in the tourism process,” she comments.
|‘WE WANT TO INVEST IN NEW SEGMENTS OF TOURISM WHICH WILL BRING VALUE TO THE CITY AND HELP CREATE SKILLED JOBS’|
‘WE ARE CREATING THE FORTALEZA TECHNOLOGY PLAN WITH THE GOAL OF CONVINCING AMERICAN, INDIAN AND BRITISH BUSINESSPEOPLE AS TO WHY FORTALEZA WOULD BE A SUCCESSFUL TECHNOLOGICAL MARKET’
‘OUR LEGACY IS NOT IN BUILDING WHITE ELEPHANTS BUT TO WORK ON IMPROVING WHAT THE CITY ALREADY HAS’
“Fortaleza as a capital has all the attributes to make tourism a potential tool for income distribution by developing religious, ecological, radical sports, culinary and gastronomical, and business tourism, which give the city year-round attractions.”
SETFOR is also taking important steps to entice both national and international businesses to conduct seminars and conferences in the city. A 2 million-square foot convention center, the second largest in Brazil, is currently under construction, and the city government is targeting further investment in the areas of technology, out-sourcing, and of course, tourism.
“We are creating the PTFor (Fortaleza Technology Plan) with the goal of convincing American, Indian and British businesspeople as to why [Fortaleza] would be a successful technological market,” explains Ms. Oliveira Lins.
Some of the reasons she lists are that the city is already the main entry point for South America’s fiber-optic cable, and that its time zone – just three hours behind GMT – ideally places it between Europe and North America.
A US$100 million investment plan, under the national PRODETUR (Regional Programs for Tourism Development) program, is taking shape to renovate and restructure Fortaleza’s infrastructure, such as the seafront area. This is set to attract a great deal of interest from investors in real estate, hospitality and tourism.
As one of the 12 hosting cities of the upcoming 2014 FIFA World Cup, Fortaleza’s existing transportation network is also undergoing drastic improvements, which will leave a lasting heritage that both city dwellers and future visitors will be able to enjoy for years to come. “I think our legacy is not in building ‘white elephants’ that will be useless later on, but to work on improving what the city already has,” says Ms. Oliveira Lins.