Brazil is a constant feature in travel bucket lists around the world – and those who do realize their dream, go back home already planning to return. According to Brazil’s Tourism Ministry, 98 percent of visitors leave the country wanting to come back.

However, the numbers of tourists in Brazil are not as spectacular as one would imagine. In 2012, only 6 million foreigners visited Brazil, as opposed to 62 million in the U.S. and 23 million in Mexico. Even its small mother country Portugal, with 7.2 million visitors in 2012, got more tourists than Brazil. 

The 6 million number is dwarfed by travel agent’s estimates of Brazil's "capacity" for visitors at 40 million. The failure to attract them could be the result of bad government policies, despite the efforts of President Dilma Rousseff’s administration.

South America's biggest country certainly has enough natural charm to lure visitors, and is rated near the top in environmental diversity. But according to Travel + Leisure magazine, out of the 50 most visited spots in the planet, none are in Brazil.

But, growth of tourism in Brazil was larger than average, according to the state-run tourism company Embratur. “Our growth grew 5 percent, while the world average was 3 percent,” said Flavio Dino, president of the company.

The growth is attributed chiefly to the two global events Brazil is hosting in the near future: the World Cup in 2014, and the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. The country got a taste of the slew of visitors it can expect years this summer, when 1 million people gathered for Pope Francis' visit and Catholic World Youth Day.

Brazil hopes to lift tourist numbers to 10 million by 2020, which the government estimates would take the share of GDP the sector accounts for directly and indirectly from the current 8.6 percent past 10 percent. Tourism contributed almost $80 billion to GDP in 2011, as well as 3 million jobs.

Of the tourists, Argentines accounted for 30 percent, making them the most numerous, followed by the U.S. at 11 percent. 


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