RIO DE JANEIRO - Brazil's Tourism Minister said Tuesday he's not worried that a recent spike in violence in Rio de Janeiro might deter visitors from attending next year's Olympic Games.
Vinicius Lages said studies have shown that insecurity is not a major worry for visitors to the city, which has long suffered from alarmingly frequent muggings and high murder rates.
While levels of violence have dipped in recent years, Rio has seen a recent spike in insecurity, including highly publicized spates of stray bullet fatalities and mass robberies on its showcase beaches.
"We don't think that this has any negative impact," Lages told journalists on the sidelines of a conference on tourism and the Aug. 5-21, 2016 Olympics.
"There are other places in the world that suffer from circumstances or moments such as these without it scaring away tourists," he said, citing one of the world's top tourist destinations, Paris, apparently referring to last month's terrorist attacks that mostly targeted journalists from a satirical magazine. "In all the studies we've done, security does not appear to be the problem."
Concern over violence in Rio has been rising in recent weeks. Nearly three dozen people have been hit by stray bullets since the beginning of the year amid a police crackdown on criminal gangs that has led to gun battles that have injured bystanders.
Meanwhile, hundreds of officers have been deployed to Rio's Copabacana and Ipanema beaches to help put a lid on mass robberies by gangs of poor young men and boys that have provoked pandemonium there over the past weekends.
"We have to work hard to show that the Brazilian state is prepared," Lages said.
He also downplayed any possible Olympic impact of an ongoing drought that has caused dual water and energy crisis in hydroelectric-reliant Brazil. Reservoirs serving the three largest cities, Rio, Sao Paulo and Belo Horizonte, are at historic lows, prompting authorities in all three cities to warn of possible water rationing over the coming months.
"We're following the issue," Lages said, adding the government "has taken steps so this won't have any more systematic effect that could affect tourism."
Lages and the city and state officials at Tuesday's conference insisted the Olympics would catapult Brazil into a top tourist destination.
A recent study by market research company Euromonitor International showed Brazil had only one city among the world's top 100 tourist destinations in 2013. Rio ranked in 92nd position, trailing far behind regional neighbours like Lima, Peru (31) and Buenos Aires, Argentina (64).
"Rio will without doubt rise in the rankings after the Olympics, given all the investment, the improvement in services and expanding offers," Lages said. "Without a doubt, the Olympic year will be another opportunity to push Brazil forward."
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