Santur: Tourism Product Diversification in Santa Catarina

Valdir Rubens Walendowsky talks about tourism in Santa Catarina, a State that has more to offer than the traditional “sun and sea” touristic segment. From mountain ranges to a unique gastronomy, he mentions some of the great potentials of the State.

Interview with Valdir Rubens Walendowsky, President of Santur and General Secretary of Santa Catarina’s Tourism Board

Valdir Rubens Walendowsky

You have made a lot of research to get to know what a tourist, a traveller, or anyone, who comes to Santa Catarina, is looking for, and what they expect to find in this State, so, what were the results of that research?

Viagem magazine has awarded us with the title of “Best State for Tourism in Brazil” for five years in a row. We are now in the competition for the sixth consecutive year. No other State in Brazil has ever achieved this before. This clearly demonstrates Santa Catarina’s great potential.

The results were very interesting; they provide a view on the reality of how the State of Santa Catarina is looked upon from outside, both within the national and international markets.

The research included not only touristic trade; it also included the consumers of the products from Santa Catarina. In this research, our State is perceived as having a very close relationship with nature. We have lots of years of work and experience and we have a very good knowledge of the entire Santa Catarina State and working with products related to nature has been an ongoing trend.

It initially began with the market which we normally call “Sun and Sea”. We have a product that is very strong in the summer season; Santa Catarina is a major vacation destination, not only in Brazil, but also internationally, for all of South America. We get a large percentage of the South-American market, especially Mercosur, which is Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, of which we get 45%. So we are the preferred destination for Mercosur in Brazil. All of this is related to nature. Our coastline is totally different from the rest of the north-eastern coast, it is a very jagged coastline with small beaches, including numerous bay-beaches, and that makes it a totally different scenery for those who are used to spending their summer holidays in places like the Brazilian Northeast.

This jagged coastline is equally interesting for the passengers of cruise ships; this is proclaimed by the captains of many foreign-flag cruise ships that call on the ports of Santa Catarina, precisely because it offers such a different scenery; the landscape seen from the ocean is completely different from that of other places they normally visit. This is, in large part, due to the vegetation. There is a great presence of the Atlantic Forest in our coastline.

What kinds of cruise ship companies visit Santa Catarina?

All the companies that operate in Brazil, especially those with Italian flag – those are the largest, but there are also American companies or German… All the companies that operate in Brazil have routes going through Santa Catarina, including routes visiting the southern part of South America. Usually, ships coming from Cape Horn make their first stop in Brazilian land in Santa Catarina. This is a route that sells really well for those companies.

We learn from our research with the cruise ship companies that, for instance, in places like Porto Belo, where there isn’t even a proper maritime port, the ships moor on the nearby bays. The reason they stop there, and the reason why those are the most popular spots, is precisely their natural beauty. The scenery is completely different. It is very enthralling for the companies and, of course, their passengers. So, it is in this perspective that the research we conducted consolidated this notion of working in a close relationship with nature.


A very important aspect here is the fact that when you are planning your holidays in Santa Catarina, you are engaging in what we call active tourism; instead of having a static, passive tourist attitude, people will always participate in some activity within this scenery, be it on the beachfront or in the Santa Catarina mountain region. This was very clear in this research and what we aim to do with this work – by following an ongoing and dynamic marketing plan, of which there are several stages that need to be worked on – is to become Brazil’s number one destination for active tourism. So, in connection with that element of nature, we aim for the involvement of the tourists in the different nature-related activities, and their engagement in all the different types of active tourism available in Santa Catarina.

Also, in a very objective view, ours is a small State, it is one of the smallest, even maybe the smallest state of Brazil, accounting for only 1.2% of the Brazilian territory. So we can never become as big in tourism as São Paulo or Rio, because we are limited by our size. But the greatest goal of our plan and our work is to be the best touristic destination in Brazil. Our State is preparing, with investments being made, not only in infrastructures, but also in the preparation of internal touristic destinations, in the training of all personnel working in tourism, and also in the preparation of touristic equipment, so that we can always provide the very best and have “Brazil’s best tourism destination” as a slogan.

You were talking about the investments you will be making, but would you also be interested in attracting other, domestic or foreign investments for Santa Catarina? What kind of investments would you be looking for?

Undoubtedly, there are, at this stage, many investment opportunities in Santa Catarina´s tourism. Beginning with infrastructures like roads, an airport, a convention center, these are all infrastructures that are necessary for the development of the tourism industry, and the state will warmly welcome both domestic and foreign capital. This is a very important focus point, the so-called public-private partnerships. There are many opportunities to bring our State up to world class standards in terms of infrastructure.

We know that, with the World Wide Web, tourism destinations are advertised to the whole world, and we see it everywhere, sometimes even if we don’t want to; the internet is present in every corporation, every organization, every home, anywhere in the world, and so, anyone can have a look at any destination. And nowadays, as we have a significant flow of Brazilian public coming here, we must keep pace with all the changes taking place in the world and we must make sure that Santa Catarina has all these investment opportunities in order to become qualified.

Currently, we already have a series of developments in our State, funded both by domestic and foreign capital, which are very sought after by a public with high purchasing power.

Can you give us some examples?

Yes, the Costão do Santinho development, Jurerê International, Ponta dos Ganchos, the Beto Carrero World Multi-Theme Park development; these are large investments already made in Santa Catarina which are still going through processes of improvement and that give us a very high tourist satisfaction index level.

Marinas are being built – in Balneário Camboriú, there is the Tedesco Marina, already famous, not only in Brazil, but also internationally; the Unipraias Park, a nature-theme park, fully inserted in the atlantic forest; there are also developments related with thermal spring waters, like the Plaza Caldas da Imperatriz Resort, in Santo Amaro da Imperatriz, and another development being built with foreign capital in a nearby town, called Águas Mornas; the Águas Mornas Hotel, also… So, besides the visual nature element, we also have great potential in thermal springs – in health and treatment tourism. All these tourist market segments are present in Santa Catarina, and this makes us the destination that caters to the most market segments in Brazil. It is a small State that offers a huge amount of touristic segments. As an example, we are now in the whale watching season; this was a rather small product in 2003, but nowadays it’s become a great international product for Santa Catarina, drawing a great number of international visitors.

serra catarinense

There is also an attempt to bring the shore and the mountain closer together; we have about 120, 130 kilometers of mountain range with a totally different diversity from the shoreline, with an altitude reaching about 1500m, with a completely different climate, landscape and gastronomy, even the people have totally different idiosyncrasies, a small State with a huge diversity.

We were colonized by 23 different ethnic groups. This was the State with the highest number of colonizing ethnic groups in Brazil. There were the German, Italian, Latvian, Slavs, Polish, Dutch, Portuguese – both from the continent and the Azores islands… so, this enormous variety that originated from all this colonization is seen all throughout the State of Santa Catarina. Up in the mountains, there is a community called the “Gauchos”, which came from Uruguay, passing through Rio Grande do Sul, and settled in the Santa Catarina mountain range. The climate there is completely different, it is the coldest region in Brazil; nowadays, cold has become a touristic product. In 2003, 2002, 2000, the cold was a problem for Santa Catarina, as we were known for being be the coldest State in Brazil, which is mostly known for its sunny beaches. Through our marketing plans and our work, we were able to create and market cold products for winter tourism. Investments were made in this area and also in the wine sector – the so-called “high altitude wines”, even though still at an early age, are already producing very good wines.

So, it is mostly about the landscape, the wine, the cuisine, and a series of ingredients that are widely explored in many places in the world, where tourism relies strongly on ethnicity, gastronomy, on the wines, on the landscapes, and that is something that we are also trying to explore here in Brazil.

Which is also a high level tourism, correct?

Exactly. Through these products, we aim to have tourists spend more and stay for longer periods in Santa Catarina, which is the main challenge for any touristic destination in the world. So these are challenges that we are taking on, more and more, through a planned and organized work, in order to make Santa Catarina the number one destination for active tourism and the best touristic destination in Brazil.

The Viagem magazine, the best travel magazine in Brazil, which is issued for trade, but is mostly directed at end consumers, has awarded us with the title of “Best State for Tourism in Brazil” for five years in a row. We are now in the competition for the sixth consecutive year. No other State in Brazil has ever achieved this before. This clearly demonstrates Santa Catarina’s great potential, as this award is decided by the readers’ votes, the tourists’ votes. So this is a very important aspect, because it puts us a step further ahead of Brazil’s other States.

So what are the major challenges that Santur, and you, as its President, are faced with?

praia Santa Catarina

Well, the biggest challenges appear every day, trying to maintain Santa Catarina’s standards. Namely the annual flow of tourists, which we have to, at least, maintain, if not increase. It is interesting to try to increase this flow, but we must also strive to have products that make people want to spend more in Santa Catarina. So, to increase the average daily amount spent by tourists, we look for new products, keep an eye on the markets, not only in Brazil but also foreign markets – tourism also depends on fashion and trends, so we need to keep an eye on that; to know what people are searching for, to know where they are, and, through a well oriented work, and with the help of the media, to bring these people to Santa Catarina.

We know that, not only Santa Catarina, but all of Brazil is a privileged tourism destination, but we need better infrastructures like airports, roads, we all know this. So this is a challenge as well- to have these hindrances removed. The State continues to make a series of investments in roadways – currently, all 293 of Santa Catarina’s municipalities have at least one paved road connecting them to a major Federal or State roadway. It is the only State in Brazil where this is true. This is also an investment on tourism. We are aware that not all the municipalities have touristic potential, but a large number of them do, and today we can say that all of them have, at least, one paved connection. This greatly improves the lives of Santa Catarina’s residents, and makes it easier for anyone visiting our State to enjoy all the natural beauty of any one of our ten touristic regions.

The diversity between these ten regions is very wide, not only in matters of ethnic groups, as I have already mentioned, but also in terms of geography. That was the reason for the division into ten different touristic regions. The towns are more alike within each region, and so the planning was made in accordance with these regions, which makes our job easier.

Each one of these regions has specific characteristics and attracts a particular type of tourist, so you will work on these characteristics to attract those tourists – is this correct?

Exactly. The marketing plan gives us these guidelines, like what are the region’s greatest assets, which products have more potential, what can be improved, and it helps us to assess each region’s reality.

Which are the ones that you feel need more work, or those you would like to dedicate more attention to, because they lack something, or have some unexplored potential? Which areas do you think need more work?

Well, the most successful tourism segment in the world is sun and sea. It accounts for 50% of the world’s tourism. This is no different in Brazil and no different in Santa Catarina either. So this is something that we need to take good care of. This is the number one reason why tourists come to Santa Catarina. But on the other hand, we have the mountain range, with a completely different scenery, where we have, for instance, the most beautiful canyons in Brazil, in the border between Santa Catarina and Rio Grande do Sul, some amazing landscapes, which, together with the high altitude fields, are part of many products that we can trim and polish to make them greatly attractive.

We need to add extra value to go beyond the mere contemplation of nature. The wine element, for instance, is fundamental and can be very easily integrated. The commercialization of the emigrants’ cuisine: marketing, without modifying, the gastronomic concepts brought by all the colonizing ethnic groups. There are several examples throughout the world of how an ethnic gastronomy can make the difference. So, different products, closely related to specific ethnic groups – their ancient recipes, using the products of those regions. We have several interesting products, for instance in the mountain range area; the mountain-style cheese, which, as its name plainly states, is a type of cheese that is only produced in the mountains, at that altitude. Another one is the meat called “Frescal”, which is a type of meat that can only be produced in the Santa Catarina Mountain range, because it depends on that specific temperature. So these are unique products, which need to be associated with the natural surroundings and with the various peoples.

There need to be investments to build attractive inns, farm-hotels – as rural tourism is very strong in this region – and make the existing farms and facilities better equipped and more attractive, because the scenery is already there, and it is different from anywhere else in the world. The temperature goes together with the reality of this scenery and it becomes a fundamental ingredient.

There are fantastic venues for the practice of nature sports. Improvements must be made on the quality of inns, hotels, restaurants, reception service companies, etc. And to build – and this is a project already underway – a big skywalk on the canyon, like the one built on the American Grand Canyon. Basically, to try to have investments made on equipment and on improvements to attract more public, to give them more than the mere contemplation of the scenery.

You were talking about the American Grand Canyon.

Yes, on the Grand Canyon there is a big glass platform, which is actually owned by the Native American Indians, and it attracts millions of people every year. There is an entrepreneur who has been to the United States Grand Canyon and is working on a similar project for one of our canyons. So this is the kind of different product that we have to aggregate to the scenery. And then, through these differentiated products and equipment, we will surely have more people staying here and for longer periods of time, and that is the secret of tourism. To increase the length of stays and the average daily amount spent in Santa Catarina.

canion Santa Catarina

I would like to ask you to leave a message for investors and for the high level tourists, stating your mission for the future. How would you like to see the State in five years from now? What would be your primary goal?

Well, ideally, we would like to see the issue of the lack of infrastructures resolved. Especially concerning accessibilities to major roadways and to the airport. Without easy access by road and air, tourism does not exist. So this is the hope of all of us who work in the tourism business. The issue of the maritime ports and infrastructures must also be addressed. We have a very beautiful coastline and we need better ports, docks and maritime equipment. This is also a part of the transport issue – roads, air and sea. We would then be able to attract more and more people.

About the maritime ports, we are not only speaking about big cruise ships; we know that there are many smaller vessels that sail along the Brazilian coast, headed for Cape Horn and coming from there headed North, that do not stop in Santa Catarina because the conditions of the ports are not the best. We could be attracting these private sailors all year round, as well. We actually have a very strong nautical industry, of smaller ships. Santa Catarina is the Brazilian State with the largest number of pleasure boat factories. So, we already have some very positive elements for nautical activities, which are a highly qualified work force and infrastructures to carry out the maintenance on those vessels.

We must also seek new equipment in the hospitality sector, like luxury inns and hotels, convention centers and fairs; we need some more infrastructures to attract organizers of trade fairs to Santa Catarina. We already have a fair amount, but we need to be better established.

Another aspect we need to consolidate is active tourism, we need to attract more and more of this type of public, because we already have the product, we already have the scenery and the nature, and that is the greatest asset, it does not need any more work, so we just need to consolidate the marketing process. The same goes for the Santa Catarina mountain range, where a road connection to the Serra Gaúcha mountain range would be of great importance – this is already in the execution stage, and when it’s finished, we will surely have a great increase on the flow of people to both mountain ranges. The Serra Gaúcha mountain range already has a huge touristic potential and, currently, we have to go down to Rio Grande do Sul, or go through the western part of Santa Catarina to reach the Santa Catarina mountain range. So this road connection will be a big “upgrade”.

And we will, of course, need to keep working more and more. To find out where our customers are, participate in fairs and in all the events in Santa Catarina, in workshops, training sessions with staff from touristic operators, travel agencies, etc.; to get the attention of the media, both national and international, which we frequently invite to Santa Catarina, so they can get to know the reality of our State. Another thing that differentiates our State is our investment in security- according to the ranking of the Justice Department, we are the safest State in Brazil and that is extremely important… so these are all fundamental elements for the continuous development of tourism in Santa Catarina.

The State is investing, and the government is aware of this reality and of the need to keep investing more and more, because Santa Catarina´s contribution for the gross domestic product is very high, so we need to be increasingly attentive to the reality of the market.

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