Last updated: 11:30 AM ET, Tue February 16 2016

5 Ways Brazil is Fanning Summer Olympics Fervor

Destination & Tourism | Brian Major | February 16, 2016

5 Ways Brazil is Fanning Summer Olympics Fervor

PHOTO: The 2016 Summer Olympics will take place in Rio de Janiero. (Photo courtesy of Embratur).

Once viewed as a potential slam-dunk following Brazil’s successful hosting of the 2014 World Cup, two years later visitor arrivals at the upcoming Summer Olympics in Rio, scheduled for Aug. 5-21, are under challenge from a variety of threats.

Brazil in particular has come under focus with regards to the mosquito-borne Zika virus because of the relatively high number of microcephaly cases reported in the country (3,500 between October and January, according to the Centers for Disease Control). Public health officials have sought to establish a link between pregnant women who contracted the virus and babies born with cases of microcephaly.

But reports of issues including high hotel prices for accommodations during the Olympics and confusion regarding Brazil’s visa waiver program have dogged the destination in advance of the event.  

Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism and Embratur, the Brazil Tourism Board’s marketing agency, have launched initiatives to address the threats. The success or failure of these efforts will go a long way toward determining if Brazil’s tourism stakeholders can repeat the tourism success created during the World Cup. Here are five ways Brazil tourism officials are working to ensure a successful 2016 Olympic Games:

Explaining Zika virus risks and realities: On its website and via communications issued from 13 international offices, Embratur is highlighting World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Tourism Organization (WTO) guidance that reports no Zika virus-related restrictions on travel to Brazil or other countries with cases of transmission of the virus. The international organizations are recommending pregnant women consider delaying plans to Brazil and the other countries.

In addition, the Brazilian government has, “mobilized 19 agencies to work together across the country to fight the Aedes aegypti mosquito, transmitter of dengue, the Zika virus and chikungunya fever,” said officials, who said cancellations to date “were minimum, mostly related to pregnant women.”

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Said Vinicius Lummertz, Embratur’s president, "We want to help travelers feel safe with the option of coming to Brazil. [Both] Brazilian and foreign tourists should take simple steps to avoid contact with mosquitoes.”

Embratur officials report Olympic facilities construction sites have received visits from environmental health surveillance agents to control possible mosquito outbreaks. During the games, all venues will have at least one environmental health-monitoring agent, to work every day in the search, elimination or treatment of residues that could create potential mosquito outbreaks.

Brazil will also field environmental health surveillance to perform mosquito control work in and around competition areas and in venues scheduled to host large gatherings.

Embratur has also issued official notices containing information on the virus and practical recommendations to tour operators, travel agents and affiliated groups.

In addition the country has mobilized more than 300,000 representatives, including 220,000 military personnel, to distribute printed information on the virus to Brazilian neighborhoods in 356 municipalities. Designed “to educate the population about the prevention of diseases,” the initiative will also utilize social media networks and digital platforms.

Communications with fans and travelers via a Summer Olympics website: An Embratur website offers a comprehensive look at progress at Olympic-related construction sites including a tennis center, a velodrome, an arena and an aquatic center. Most of the venues are reported to be more than 80 percent complete; several are considered ready and undergoing testing.

"We are expecting between 350,000 to 500,000 visitors during the Olympics,” said Lummertz.  “Most of the events will take place in Rio de Janeiro, but there will also be soccer games in Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Manaus, Sao Paulo and Salvador.”

Focus on an energized Carnaval celebration: Embratur officials are hoping the visitor numbers recorded during the recently completed 2016 Carnaval celebration are indicative of things to come. Brazilian state and municipal agencies and hotel associations report a “significant increase” in international tourists visiting Brazil during the event, said officials in a statement.

Rio de Janeiro has hosted more than one million tourists to date in 2016, and hotel occupancy in the city increased 15 percent during the period. Rio hotels have averaged 85 percent occupancy this year according the Brazilian Hotel Industry Association’s Rio de Janeiro chapter.

“Due to the appreciation of the U.S. currency and also the promotion of Brazil done by Embratur abroad for this season, we achieved an excellent result in the arrival of international visitors,” Lummertz said.

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A check on hotel pricing: Embratur said that while hotel price controls implemented during the 2014 World Cup will not be resumed for the Olympics, prices should remain competitive.

“During the World Cup, there was an expectation of a high number of tourists in several cities throughout Brazil and the hotel industry was aware of this, increasing prices based on the high demand,” said Lummertz. “Embratur took the lead to discuss the situation with the industry and implement a cap.

“During the Olympic year, we have a different scenario,” he said. “Due to the strong dollar and the fact that there will be fewer tourists during the Olympics in comparison to the World Cup, we don’t anticipate a major increase in the prices of hotels. Additionally, the city of Rio de Janeiro, and its close surroundings, offer enough accommodations to all the domestic and international visitors that will come to [attend] the games.”

Clearing the air on Brazil’s visa waiver system: Despite reports of confusion regarding Brazil’s visa waiver system, the system is designed to operate in a simple manner: simply put, Americans and Canadians won’t need a visa to enter Brazil during the Summer Olympics. Visitors from those countries “will be treated like any visitor from countries that already don’t need a visa to enter Brazil,” said officials in a statement, and will not need to visit a consulate and apply for a visa waiver. Embratur has created a visa waiver fact sheet to help explain the program. 

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