By TALES AZZONI, Associated Press
SAO PAULO (AP) — The Brazilian government wants to improve services for the nearly 600,000 international visitors and 3 million local tourists expected at next year's World Cup.
"How we welcome these tourists will determine the image that they will take away from the country," tourism ministry official Izabel Barnasque said in a statement.
A committee that includes officials from several parts of the government has been meeting regularly to discuss ways to better accommodate the visitors.
Some measures have already been agreed upon, including the creation and renovation of more than 100 information booths to attend to tourists in the 12 host cities.
The government's efforts come in addition to its ongoing fight to control hotel rates and the price of plane tickets during the tournament.
Home to Carnival, pristine beaches and the Amazon rain forest, Brazil is used to tourists all year, but the World Cup will attract an unprecedented number of worldwide visitors. FIFA said fans from more than 200 countries have applied for tickets for a monthlong tournament that begins next June. After Brazilians, most of the ticket requests came from Americans, Argentines and Germans.
The government committee that's studying ways to improve the quality of services for tourists has already met in Belo Horizonte, Rio de Janeiro, Porto Alegre, Sao Paulo and Brasilia. It is expected to meet in all other host cities by the end of the year, when it will report its findings to the government. The group is also using the visits to monitor the quality of services available in the cities.
After a meeting in Brasilia on Thursday, the tourism ministry said it is investing about $16 million in the 105 new tourist centers.
The ministry also said Brazil's health surveillance agency and the country's association of bars and restaurants will work to categorize the establishments based on sanitary conditions. The restaurants are being instructed to translate menus into different languages.
Also Thursday, the government met with airline industry officials to discuss new routes because of greater passenger demand during the World Cup. The routes are expected to be completed in January. As of now, there aren't direct flights between many of the World Cup host cities.
The government last month created a committee to monitor hotel and airline ticket price hikes. The action comes after complaints by consumer advocates and amid reports of huge price increases during the tournament.
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