SAO PAULO – Millions of people have already begun taking to the streets ahead of the start of Brazil’s most iconic festival, Carnival, an event that promises to provide a jolt to the South American giant’s struggling economy.
Brazil hopes the pre-Lenten party – which officially runs from March 1 to March 6 – will bring in some 6.8 billion reais (around $1.8 billion) in revenue, with businesses in the hotel services, transportation and food sectors being the biggest beneficiaries.
Many Brazilians are showing faith in the country’s recovery from a deep 2015-2016 recession and spending money on travel, while others see an opportunity for temporary work and the chance to build up some savings.
Some 5 million people are expected to celebrate Carnival in Sao Paulo alone, while 50 percent of that metropolis’ available hotel rooms are to be filled.
Marcos de Andrade, an economist at Sao Paulo’s Mackenzie Presbyterian University, told EFE there are high expectations for that city’s festival.
He noted that this year the number of Sao Paulo “blocos,” street bands that mobilize massive crowds and are the heart of Carnival, are expected to exceed those in Rio de Janeiro, a city more traditionally associated with that world-renowned festival.
In addition, more money has been invested in 2019 in the Sao Paulo blocos as opposed to their Rio counterparts.
“There also has been greater investment by professionals and business leaders in the sector,” the economist said, noting that expectations are that temporary hiring will be up 10 percent from 2018.
A week before the festivities officially kick off, millions of Carnival lovers have already begun packing the streets of Sao Paulo wearing masks, disguises and accessories and taking part in one of the 208 bloco parades already under way.
Nevertheless, Andrade sees the financial boost provided by Carnival as seasonal and says it would be a stretch to talk about a consolidated economic recovery in Brazil, which has grown at a tepid pace over the past two years.
Likewise, Jose Pena – chief economist at Porto Seguro Investimentos, the asset management arm of insurance company Porto Seguro – said it is very difficult to measure Carnival’s nationwide contribution, though adding that its positive impact is undeniable.
He noted that economic activity during Carnival is mainly concentrated in the cities of Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Salvador and Recife and in the hotel, food services and transportation industries.
“Those sectors clearly hit their peak during Carnival and attract a large number of tourists, so the (number of people traveling to those cities) jumps during that period,” Pena said.
In fact, according to a study by Brazil’s Tourism Ministry, five states will account for around 80 percent of Carnival’s nationwide revenues in 2019.
Rio de Janeiro, which continues to lead the way, is projected to attract 7 million people to its streets during this year’s festival, including 1.5 million tourists.
Meanwhile, the hotel occupancy rate in Brazil’s most emblematic city was already 74 percent a week before the official start of Carnival.
Estimates are that that rate will reach 98 percent and 95 percent, respectively, in the case of two northeastern cities: Salvador and Recife.
Despite persistent economic uncertainty in Brazil, there are signs of greater optimism for the first time in recent years.
Attorney Gabriel Morettini e Castella, who still has not decided in which city he will celebrate Carnival, said he has quite a bit more money to spend this year.
He said the law firm that employs him has seen an uptick in business that goes hand-in-hand with a better economic climate over the past four months.
“That improvement raised my income and will allow me to spend more than in previous Carnivals. This year, I’m willing to spend double the amount I did last year,” Morettini e Castella said.