COHN Voices: Rio Tourism

August 4, 2016

Saving Tourism Marketing in Rio de Janeiro

Some of the most interesting conversations you’ll ever hear occur at the COHN offices. Walking to the printer, coffee machine, or water cooler (yes, we have a water cooler), you’ll invariably overhear some fascinating commentary about the trending topic du jour—and that’s when the magic happens.

You see, the amassed experience under our roof is astounding, and when the topic has any ounce of marketing perspective, these conversations are utterly rich.

It’s about time we capture these moments and share them in a new blog series we’re calling “COHN Voices.”

Whenever the moment calls for it, I’ll send out an email to the appropriate COHN experts and ask them to weigh in on how to solve the issue at hand with intelligent brand marketing.

First up: Rio Tourism.

The International Olympics Committee (IOC) will proudly tell you about the positive economic impact that the Games can have on a country, and one major component of that boost is increased tourism.

But when Rio de Janeiro police are being photographed standing at the airport’s arrivals gate with signs that read “Welcome to Hell,” it’s appropriate to have concern about the city’s potential tourism bump after the Olympic games.

In this episode of COHN Voices, we asked our Brand and PR experts:

How can Rio salvage this tourism opportunity, before, during and after the games in 2016?

Jeff Cohn, President & CEO:

Make Brazil the story because Brazil is vast and fascinating. Refocus the attention away from Rio and The Olympics (old news) to the exciting country of Brazil. Entice people to visit Brazil (not so much Rio), and focus on those brand attributes that would include sun, fun, warm people, enticing environments, the Amazon, etc. Brazil is famous for great food and culture. So why not launch a traveling food and culture festival across the top tier markets in the U.S. featuring Brazilian foods, music, arts, etc.?

Also, if things are bad for Brazil post-Olympics, costs will go way down, and U.S. tourists love a bargain. There might be an opportunity to position Rio as one of the world’s great “value” vacations. Create packages that show the value with airlines to drive business there. “Rio-Less-Dinero,” if you will.

Anna Duggan, Senior PR Director:

Make Rio ground zero for environmental communication best practices. Water is literally our lifeblood and most precious natural resource, despite what oil & gas might say. The current state of Rio’s water pollution, and general pollution, is a direct result of unregulated and corrupt business and waste management practices. This is a great chance to bring reckless behaviors and cover ups to the world’s attention. This is also a prime example of how public communications/PR can be a vehicle to create the environmental change that is necessary to sustain our planet. Yes the media is covering the bad, so now what? What is the solution?

It’s a well-known communication phenomenon that when messaging is overly negative people naturally develop cognitive dissonance to the topic and, therefore, tune out. In my opinion, the way to not just get the public’s attention but recruit them to take action is to offer hope by providing solutions.

Rather than demonize the offenders, as we can’t turn back the clock and undo what is done, environmentalists and environmental communication professionals need to be part of the solution. How can other nations avoid the actions or take steps to prevent this kind of contamination? What can we do to clean up Rio so that it isn’t ruined for future generations?

CJ Powell, Writer:

Do whatever you can to get through the festivities safely — no more incidents, no security issues, etc. It’s really important that organizers “stop the bleeding,” so to speak. Throw whatever budget is left at making Rio as safe as humanly possible for the next month. Contain and maintain!

Be a leader in the Zika fight — The Olympics are going to make Rio seem like ground zero for Zika. That’s why Rio—and greater Brazil—needs to be the one that appears to lead the charge against Zika. Be the first country in the world to get a handle on the Zika problem, whatever that means.

Tout the “Olympics saves the day” narrative — People want to believe that the Olympics bring us together. That the power and energy of this event can move mountains. Change history. Once the Games conclude, it’s important that the Brazil PR folks take whatever “Rio momentum” that comes from these games (economic boost, political reform, Zika prevention, better infrastructure, etc.), and package that narrative for 60 minutes tell that story in a few months: “The Olympics Games Saved Rio from Ruin.”

Amy Larson, VP of Marketing:

I think Jeff’s idea on the bigger Brazil story is great, rather than anything related to Rio or even the Olympics. Think of it in terms of promoting visitation to the U.S. vs. visitation to just NYC—it’s a much bigger story, and so much more to see.

Some of the biggest trends in tourism right now are experiential, “like a local” and cultural / heritage tourism. So identifying and developing programs, tours, etc. that feature the undiscovered Brazil in a safe way would be appealing. To that point, everyone knows Rio, Carnival, etc., but developing a program that features the lesser-known, less-crowded, more “real” destinations and bringing it to the U.S. via some all-encompass social media / digital image and video campaign like See My Brazil, Brazil Beautiful (#MyBrazil, #BrazilBeaches, #BrazilBeyond, etc. etc.) that both features different parts of Brazil while also encouraging people to share their Brazil experiences.

Lastly, they need to work closely with travel agents and tour operators to educate them on the positive aspects of Brazil—but also the realities (don’t drink the water, don’t go into alleys during Carnival, etc.) so their customers have positive experiences and don’t contribute to the negative commentary. As such, they should develop some sort of in-market training program for hotels, concierges, restaurant managers, local DMOs, taxi drivers, etc. that certifies them as “Brazil Real” representatives. An educational program that results in a certification that shows they have been trained on how to best work with, communicate with, host, make recommendations for tourists AND gives tourists a level of confidence that they’ll be safe, pointed in the right direction, not taken advantage of, etc.


REinvented: Eurostreets