Brazil divided over an emerging middle class

By Paulo Cabral
BBC News, Porto Seguro

  • Published
Media caption,

The good life: Brazilians Osmar and Maria Ferreira are part of a new middle class able to afford beach holidays

As Brazil's economy keeps growing, a record number of Brazilians are heading to the country's tropical beaches on package holidays. But not everyone welcomes the invasion of tourists or what that change symbolises: the rising affluence and aspirations of Brazil's expanding middle class.

Osmar and Maria Ferreira have never flown on a plane before. They have never been on a package holiday, either.

They are part of Brazil's growing middle class, who can now afford to do a lot of things for the first time.

Osmar is a retired painter and decorator from Sao Paulo, while Maria still works as a manicurist. Cheap credit means they can go on holiday now and pay later.

The couple are spending a week in Porto Seguro. They were taught in school about the historic site, where the first Europeans landed in Brazil around 500 years ago, but never dreamed they would get to see it themselves.

Brazil's economic success story has not only lifted millions of Brazilians out of poverty. It has also raised the expectations of a new lower-middle class - known here as the "C class".

"Food is not the only thing we need to live," says Mr Ferreira, relaxing in a plastic chair by the green sea he has seen many times on TV. "This is living! Look how beautiful this place is."

Contentious change

This mix of history, sunshine and pristine tropical beaches has long made Porto Seguro an ideal destination for Brazilians looking to escape the crowded cities.

Now it is no longer the preserve of foreign tourists and the wealthier Brazilians who made up the country's professional and highly-educated traditional middle class.

Research by Data Popular, a market research company specialising in the C class, shows that between 2002 and 2010 the lower-middle class share of the tourism industry almost doubled, to 34%.

The C Class now accounts for almost half of the passengers travelling by plane in Brazil.

However, the change is causing tension for some Brazilians, who feel their space is being invaded.

A short ferry ride south of Porto Seguro, the village of Trancoso has always been an oasis of exclusivity. It is more remote and more expensive to stay at the hotels, but not out of reach for day-trippers from the bigger resorts.

"The people that are coming now to Trancoso have to show better manners and more respect for this place," complains retired firefighter Norma Sandes, who has been holidaying here for more than a decade.

"It's a very different crowd that's been coming here over the last few years."

Journalist Ana Campolino stays in the village at least twice a year with her husband. "We notice that many people that come here now are not A or B, but C class. That's clear from the way they dress and behave," she says.

Competition for resources

Brazilian anthropologist Roberto DaMatta, professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame in the United States, says that the country's economic success has brought into focus Brazilians' "resistance to equality".

"Our love for titles and hierarchy is part of our Portuguese heritage. People here want to be seen as different, as superior to the others, and don't like mixing," he says.

A poll taken by Data Popular provides further evidence of the discomfort the traditional elite feel about Brazil's changing society.

Of the A and B class, 48% said that "the quality of services has worsened now that they are more accessible". Half said they preferred patronising places "with people from the same social level".

"We decided to take this poll when we started noticing people complaining, for example, about the airports, that are much more crowded now," says the chairman of Data Popular, Renato Meirelles. "Our polls have shown that there is very strong resistance from the upper classes in accepting the newcomers."

He believes that tensions will only be resolved when Brazil is better prepared to offer these services for all of its citizens. "Airports, for example, are crowded for everybody. If there is enough space then tensions begin to disappear."

'A magical moment'

But the tourism industry denies there is an issue. A spokesperson for the Porto Seguro Hospitality Association, Paulo Cesar Magalhaes, says that "there is room for everybody" in their region."Naturally travellers go to the areas that fit their profile. Here in the main district of Porto Seguro, where we have more lodgings and restaurants, there are more choices for people on a lower budget, while beaches further afield are better options for those who can spend more money," he says.

Mr Magalhaes says that businesses in Porto Seguro have nothing to complain about. "For many people this is a magic moment, the first opportunity to travel around Brazil, and all this excitement ends up translated in money being spent in our city," he says.

Brazil's emergence onto the world stage has already shaken up the traditional international order. Now at home, Brazilians of every class are rethinking their roles and expectations for the future.

Back on the beach Osmar and Maria Ferreira are too busy enjoying themselves to worry what others think.

"There is prejudice, sure," says Mr Ferreira with a hearty laugh. "But now I am here and they will have to put up with me."