Increased crime in Rio favelas impacting tourism

Colourful buildings in Santa Marta favela.

Brazil has become one hot little destination, especially in recent years with the Olympics, and Rio is no different, being the highly-sought after capital.

But Rio has been plagued by some drama lately, which has potential to impact tourism interest.

One part of Rio’s tourism attractions are the local favelas, where the poorer populations live. And in recent times, the population was intent on capitalising on tourists’ curiosity of the region, with tours beginning in the region.

But now new waves of violence could threaten this attraction, as controversial as it seems.

Speaking Travel Weekly, Tourism Brazil Minister Marx Beltrao said that the violence in favelas is “of course a problem”.

“In the case of the favelas in Brazil… there are exceptions so they don’t happen every day, they happen the same way [violence] happens in Australia – it happens in a lot of countries in the world.”

“In Rio, the government put a lot of policemen in the street to help the local police, to protect the citizens and visitors.”

“In the last three months, the 7000 foreign visitors in Brazil, especially in Rio, 98 per cent of them said they intend to, they enjoy the trip and they intend to come back to Rio.”

“Another 10 per cent of them said that they’re going to talk about Rio and Brazil and a destination for friends and family.”

When asked whether tourists heading to Brazil were given enough information about the dangers, Beltrao assured us there was plenty of information.

“Information is given by a lot of tourism operators when they sell the package to tourists for travel.”

“They are given a lot of information available for the tourists. So today on the internet it’s very easy for people to access information.”

Favelas are a region of both drugs and crime, as well as the birthplace of Carnival parades and celebrations, but in a report from The Associated Press, published in the Western Starthey posed the question, “Are favelas safe to visit?”

The report revealed that in the lead up to the Olympics, authorities started to target drug gangs, while a national economic crisis deepened the levels of inequality, seeing security funds cut and authorities again admitting to having “lost control” of most of the slums.

Speaking to The Associated Press, Marcelo Armstrong, who has been taking tourists to favelas for 25 years, said, “The question is very complex to simply say if it is safe or not.

“Depends where, depends what day, depends what circumstance. That’s the reality of Rio now.”

In 2017, The Associated Press writes that Rio has experienced an estimated average of 15 shootings a day involving police and heavily armed gangs, with plenty of local civilians caught up in the crossfire.

And the city’s tourism income has suffered as a result of this increased crime, losing as much as $200 million between January and August of this year according to a study conducted by the country’s National Confederation of Commerce and Tourism.

Per the study, in 2015, Rio snagged around $5 billion in tourism profit. That’s a pretty hefty difference.

And even tourists can occasionally get caught up in the crime, after accidentally winding up in the favelas.


In October, police opened fire on a car, which was carrying Spanish tourist Maria Esperanza Jimenez Ruiz and her relatives.

They were exiting a walking tour of the city’s most visited slum, Rocinha, an area that’s been a hub for a deadly battle between rival gangs, as well as local authorities.

Police claimed the driver missed a checkpoint, and the windows were darkly tinted, which the driver denied, reported The Associated Press. The tourist was left dead, with police now being investigated over her death.

Interestingly, authorities also say they’ll be pressing charges against a tour guide and agency that had dealt with Maria and her family, over their failure to inform the tourists of the risks involved in visiting the slum.

“I understand the tourists’ curiosity and I understand the desire of a community to be part of the city,” Valeria Aragao, who heads Rio’s tourism police and is investigating the case, said, per The Associated Press.

“What I don’t understand is the irresponsible attitude of a tourism agency and a guide to choose and encourage a visit to this place — when even residents feel unsafe.”

Per The Associated Press, tourism and security authorities have created a committee to regulate tourism in slums in the wake of the shooting.

The city council is also considering introducing a measure that would require agencies who operate favela tours to have liability insurance, in addition to informing local police prior to running each tour.

These agencies would have to work with a local guide and drive tourists in an identified vehicle, without tinted windows.

But per the publication, veteran tour guide Marcelo Armstrong worries about the blame and responsibility being transferred away from authorities and onto tourism companies.

“There will be a day when travel agencies will be accused of exposing their clients to risk because they are walking in Copacabana,” Armstrong said.

“If the government is not able to guarantee security, it is their fault and nobody else’s.”

Despite the apparent dangers, tourism is actually fast becoming a kind of lifeline for those living in the favelas, with formal jobs less accessible.

Per The Associated Press article, many locals claim to have lost income from the crime and risks of travelling through favelas.

Andreia Cavalcante told the publication she sells snacks and drinks to foreigners and their drivers from a stand in the Vidigal slum. While she once used to make about 1,600 reals (around AU$636) selling pasties, she now makes about half that.

“This is due to the community being a bit unstable with all that is happening,” she said.

Daniel Graziani, the owner of Mirante do Arvrao hotel, which sits above the Vidigal slum region, said while the threats are real, he still holds hope for a strong future in tourism in the favelas.

He still offers a “Favela Experience” package to guests at the hotel, giving tourists the chance to spend the day learning to make a bean and meat stew known as feijoada, or fly kites – or pipas – as is customary in favelas.

“People are still interested in another type of tourism that goes beyond the mainstream,” he said.

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    Latest comments
    1. Well, let’s think of a different perspective. Being a local, I can state that the violence in the slums is starting to get back to the pre World Cup and Olympics era. Local and Federal governments put a good effort to mask the violence with the UPP (Units of Police Pacification) before those events. As we commonly say here “it was just for the English to see…” meaning that the government wanted to show the world an image of a pacified city. I remember when the UK Prince came to visit a slum along with the security Secretary and many authorities. They were cordoned by heavily armed security forces. Then the smart Prince asked one of the local representatives “If the area is pacified why they are heavily armed with bullet proof vests? ” It was really fun to watch the local’s embarrassment to this question.
      Now the big events are over, resourses are scarce and there’s no interest to maintain a security structure in Rio’s favelas. So we’re back to the beginning. And just to add up, as the defense minister said the other day ‘It’s well known that the military police chiefs in Rio are partners in crime with the slum’s bosses.” And so are politicians, everyone is getting a share on drug trade and arms sale. The situation in Brazil is quite complex, even quite unrealistic from the perspective of a developed country. Sergio Cabral, Rio governor during these big events, is currently in prison, convicted of money laundry and many other crimes. He was sentenced to nearly 300 years. Shame it’s just one conviction when we know that 95% of Brazilian politicians, at least, are very corrupt.

brazil danger favela Marx Beltrão Minister for Tourism of Brazil rio tourism travel

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