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Interview with Alison McGowan

Founder of Hidden Pousadas Brazil

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Interview with Alison McGowan

Alison McGowan in Rio.

Photo courtesy of Hidden Pousadas Brazil.

In 2010, Brazil received 5.16 million international travelers, according to the Ministry of Tourism – a 7.8% growth in relation to 2009. Some of those travelers are beginning to explore the attractions which lie beyond the most popular destinations and discovering that pousadas, Brazil's version of B&Bs, inns, lodges and guesthouses can offer a more personalized, up-close experience of the country and its culture than large hotels.

One of the people who's helping international visitors gain access to this world is Alison McGowan, founder of Hidden Pousadas Brazil. A UK native, she has lived and worked in Brazil for over 30 years.

"The aim of Hidden Pousadas Brazil is two-fold: to provide international travelers with easily searchable, accurate and up-to-date information in English on some of the most wonderful places to stay in Brazil whilst offering pousadas a way of connecting with potential guests and increasing international bookings," says Alison.

The key to all this is a unique marketing system called PODER+ ( or "power" in Portuguese). "It combines the force of the internet and particularly the website with the power of social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook," says Alison. "Travelers are free to book the way they want, either direct with the pousada via the site or via any other means, and there is also a direct link to Hidden Pousadas Brazil for anyone who needs free help with trip planning."

Alison's interest in Brazil dates back to a time when she was living in Paris and met Brazilian musicians through a friend. "I'm addicted to Brazilian music," she says. Before creating Hidden Pousadas Brazil, she worked extensively in marketing for educational publishing companies and EFL schools. It was during a teaching conference in Chile that a stressed-out Alison got a recommendation to take a vacation on Boipeba Island, Bahia. Not long after arriving at her pousada, she felt her stress ebbing away and thought: "This is paradise." And the idea for Hidden Pousadas was born.

How does a Brazilian pousada compare with similar places in other countries?

The word pousada comes from the verb "pousar", which means "to land" or "to stay". In Portugal, the term has come to refer to hotels in historic buildings more like the Spanish paradores; in Brazil the term is more inclusive. Generally speaking, the maximum number of suites will be around 25-30 and a true pousada will never be part of a hotel chain. Indeed, often the owners themselves run the place; only the bigger or more luxurious ones are likely to have a manager.

Why would pousadas be an interesting alternative to large hotels in well-known destinations?

In the past, one would have said hotels were better for business travelers and pousadas for those on vacation, but these days everyone has a Blackberry or iPnone and nearly all pousadas have Wi-Fi so it is perfectly possible to work from a pousada should you need or want to.

What are the criteria for pousadas to become part of the special collection represented on Hidden Pousadas Brazil.com?

We consider requests from all pousadas which have between 4 and 25 suites, and which have excellent recommendations from Trip Advisor, personal friends or trusted sources like Ricardo Freire (Viaje na Viagem, www.viajenaviagem.com), Ale Forbes (Brazil for Insiders, braziltraveltips.blogspot.com) and yourself from the About.com Guide to Brazil Travel! After a provisional approval, we do a site visit and work on marketing strategies together. Only pousadas we really feel share the same philosophies, commitment to quality and concern for staff and the environment are likely to make the grade.

How important is speaking English in terms of criteria?

Our sites at present are only in English and those that use them definitely prefer to go to a place where at least someone speaks English. Almost without exception the pousadas on Hidden Pousadas Brazil.com have someone fluent in English on the staff. For Pousada Hotel Brazil.com - our "budget and discount guide" - we only insist that there is someone on the staff who is able to cope with bookings in English.

How are Americans represented in terms of hits on Hidden Pousadas Brazil?

Curiously, considering that the site is only in English at the moment, 40% of the hits come from Brazil, but we have anecdotal evidence to suggest that many of these come from expats living in Brazil who are predominantly American and British. A further 45% of the hits is made up equally of Americans and British living in the US and UK with the final 15% predominantly other Europeans.

How are pousadas keeping up with the growing demand for accessible/inclusive accommodations?

In terms of inclusion, pousadas tend to be open to guests of all religions and persuasions and I've never come across one which has had a problem with gay guests, for example. In terms of accessibility, unfortunately many pousadas are in places which are difficult to get to, so tend not to be suited to people with mobility problems.

Are there any places you would highly recommend for a first-time Brazil traveler, especially someone eager to discover the country's beaches?

If coming to Brazil for the first time, I would always say Rio, where I live, is a must - for the history, the amazing scenery, the Sugar Loaf, Corcovado, the music and the beaches. If people want to discover more outlying beaches then my recommendation would be to head for Búzios or Ilha Grande, both of which have fabulous beaches and are relatively easy to get to from Rio. For those who want to go more off the beaten track, I always recommend Boipeba and the Pousada Santa Clara in Bahia. It is very difficult to improve on paradise!

The Hidden Pousadas Brazil group also owns three blogs which help with travel planning:

The company has recently signed up a partnership with ABETA, the Brazilian Association of Ecotourism and Adventure Companies.

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