South America

Rio mayor-elect proposes tourist tax to reimburse visitors who get mugged

Brazilian police say U.S. Olympic swimmers were unable to provide key details about robbery claim when interviewed


In an effort to "shatter" Rio de Janeiro's "negative image," the city's mayor-elect Marcelo Crivella has proposed a tourist tax designed to raise funds that could be used to reimburse visitors who are mugged at any point in their stay, the New York Times reported.

Crivella's "bold proposal," which could result in a new tax for incoming air travelers, has been met with considerable backlash.

While Rio has experienced a historic amount of street crime this year, with an eye-popping 8,000 robberies reported in June 2016 alone — more than twice the amount in June 2015, per the Telegraph — some opponents feel the tax would ultimately turn off tourists to the popular Brazilian destination.

"Creating such a tax makes no sense, unless the aim is to discourage tourism in Rio de Janeiro," global tourism industry scholar Mario Beni told the Times.

Essentially, tourists visiting Rio would be paying themselves back through the tax.

"I was in the room when he proposed the idea," Alfredo Lopes, president of Rio's Hotel Association, told the Times. "The first thing that came to mind is, 'If you’re going to reimburse tourists, then as a citizen of Rio, I want my reparations, too.'"

The U.S. State Department acknowledges Rio's high crime rate but has stopped short of issuing a travel warning or alert. 

"The city continues to experience high incidences of crime, including armed robberies," the department states on its website. "While criminal activity is more frequent in certain areas, there is no area in Rio that is immune."

"Tourists are particularly vulnerable to street thefts and robberies in the evening and at night especially in areas adjacent to major tourist attractions," it added. "If robbed, do not attempt to resist or fight back, but rather relinquish your personal belongings."

The latest travel advice for Brazil from the U.K.'s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) warns that "levels of crime and violence are high, particularly in major cities."

"You should be particularly vigilant before and during the festive and Carnival periods," the FCO advises.