Brazilian hospitality in Recife and Ilheus

Charles-Edouard Houllier-Guibert

2015-1-(7)-PH2-Fig1 2015-1-(7)-PH2-Fig2Figure 1 and 2. Brazilian hospitality in Recife and Ilheus
Source: Charles-Edouard Houllier-Guibert

Both of these photographs show the same thing: a group of musicians and dancers performing a regional, folkloric dance.

The group inside a hall is performing a traditional dance from Pernambuco, a state in north-east Brazil. The photograph was taken in the brand new ferry terminal in Recife, capital of Pernambuco. Recife is the country’s fifth largest city and is a major tourist resort; both for internal and international tourism. The group is performing the frevo (from the verb ferver which means to boil). This regional dance was added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2012. The dance comprises an orchestra (one or several trumpets, a trombone, a tuba and sometimes a saxophone and clarinet) and energetic dancers who spin multi-coloured mini umbrellas. These umbrellas symbolise tourism; they are dotted all over Recife’s city landscape and can be seen in plenty during the city carnival.

The other external group of musicians and dancers is also in a significant location: port Ilheus – a typical Brazilian city in the state of Bahia. Its industrial and agricultural economy is complemented by tourism. The latter is boosted via the image created by native writer Jorge Amado. Some of Amado’s novels about local life were written there. A further element has developed international tourism: this land was one of the first to produce cacao. This natural resource was key to the region’s success before other parts of the world began to produce it and especially before the vassoura de bruxa plague (witch’s broom) destroyed the plantations, after which an economic reconversion became necessary. But plantations today are still open to visitors so that tourists can learn about cocoa farming and its related way of life.

The cruise industry is the reason as to why these dancers and musicians are performing in a ferry terminal and a dock. International companies, MSC and COSTA, have chosen coastal resorts in Brazil which are currently being developed. Several South American stopovers will welcome the cruise ships which are at sea for several months of the year – during the northern hemisphere’s winter. In November 2015, two of Costa Cruises’ largest cruise ships arrived from the vibrant Mediterranean basin tourist zone (Fournier, 2011) for a few months. They returned to Europe in March 2016 after having offered several types of cruise holidays (1 week, 10 days, 4 days, etc.) mostly in Brazil. Cruise customers are mainly Brazilian and South American but the clientele is more mixed on both transatlantic cruises where the boats go to South America. On one of the two Costa cruise ships in November 2015, 31% of the passengers were Brazilian, 22% were Italian, 20% were French, 16% were Spanish and 11% were of other nationalities. As regards the cruise ship’s employees, 30% were Brazilian[1] and the remainder were mostly Asian (Philippines, Indonesia, Vietnam, etc.). Therefore, the group which disembarks is made up mostly of foreigners. They are immediately welcomed by this type of folkloric performance and are invited to take photos or even dance with the performers for a few seconds.

It is worth noting that the folkloric performance is not held at the cruise ship stopovers from November through to March. These performances are for transatlantic crossings and some cruises. Therefore, when international tourists stop over en masse, a specific type of hospitality is provided. Hospitality, or “sharing one’s home”, is a key element of sustainable tourism (Ricoeur, 1998, Telfer, 2000). For Jacques Godbout (1977)[2], there are three types of tourist hospitality; a destination’s territorial hospitality towards foreigners includes residents’ welcoming actions, regardless of whether they are tourism professionals or not. In the case of cruises – a booming tourist activity (Grenier, 2008) – the role of this hospitality at stopovers may be questioned.

In the tourist offices of both cities the authorities explain informally that this welcome, which is aimed specifically for international tourists, aims to counterbalance negative portrayals of the country. In fact, during cruises, customers compare previous cruise holidays and the countries visited; the stories shared and exaggerated on board tend to seam fear amongst the tourists before they even disembark. Brazilian stereotypes are confirmed and criminality is depicted as a true threat before the cruise ship even enters the harbour. Cruise companies issue strict advice: a safety letter from the captain is placed in each room, passengers are verbally reminded during a country-information meeting to remove jewellery and to avoid walking around alone, and so on.

The approach to tourism, therefore, in both these cities is to create a climate of safety through folklore. The immediate hospitality at the foot of the cruise ship creates a festive atmosphere. It is true that the festivities are short-lived and end as soon as the tourists leave to take their excursion coaches or negotiate a rate with taxi drivers. But just for a moment, the time it takes to snap a photograph, local culture speaks for itself and counters the previously opined negative portrayal of the country. The conceived space is replaced with lived space from the offset. The lived/conceived space debate, which has already been studied (Houllier-Guibert, 2009) gives precedence to lived space.

This type of action can be defined as territorial marketing, for two reasons. The first being that territorial marketing differs from territorial communication because of relational dimensions. In one case, images of territories filter through mass-media channels, without any feedback. This territorial communication is not relational whereas territorial marketing offers potential connections (trade fairs, events, hospitality, support, etc.). Many stopover ports display promotional posters, various symbols and territorial symbols for cities as part of demonstrative, but uninvolved, territorial communications. Few offer the opportunity to create a connection, albeit brief, like this example with a group of performers. Secondly, this hospitality is the opportunity to illustrate cultural differentiation. Cultural differentiation is the ability to distinguish between a territory with a local speciality (architecture, flagship, event, heritage, region, etc.). This is what cruise ship tourists are looking for. In the Recife example, the choice of showcasing a heritage dance also benefits the city’s image by basing hospitality on local tradition.




Fournier C., 2011, « Le tourisme de croisière en Méditerranée », in revue Géoconfluences, en ligne
Godbout J., 1977, « Recevoir, c’est donner », in revue Communications (L’hospitalité), 1977, n°65, pp.35-48
Grenier A., 2008, « Le tourisme de croisière », in revue Téoros, 27-2, pp.36-48
Houllier-Guibert Ch-Ed (coord.) Bouaouina N., Feninekh K., Ghodbani T., Hernàndez-Gonzàlez E., Lauras C., Msilta L. et Roland J., 2009, « Ville représentée et ville pratiquée, quelles influences de l’une sur l’autre : études de cas », in ouvrage Pierre-Robert Baduel, La ville dans le monde arabe et en Europe. Acteurs, organisations, territoires, Paris, éd. Maisonneuve & Larose, pp.219-231
Ricœur P., 1998, Étranger, moi-même. In revue Semaines Sociales – L’immigration, défis et richesses, pp.93-106
Telfer E., 2000, « The Philosophy of Hospitableness”, in ouvrage Lashley Conrad et Morrison Alison (dir.), In Search of Hospitality – Theoretical Perspectives and Debates, Oxford, éd. Butterworth-Heinemann, pp.38-55.


[1] The Brazilian government authorises cruise ships to moor in Brazilian cities in exchange for a minimum rate of 30% of cruise ship recruitment from Brazil.

[2] The other two types of hospitality are domestic and commercial.



Charles-Edouard Houllier-Guibert, Territorial Strategy lecturer, University of Rouen



Translation French > English:
Bureau de Traduction de l’Université de Bretagne Occidentale – Brest