An Eye on The Olympics: One On One With Henrique Alves, Brazil's Minister Of Tourism
Photo courtesy of Brazil’s Ministry of Tourism
Buoyed by its successful hosting of the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament, Brazil tourism officials are working diligently to repeat the experience next year, when Rio de Janiero hosts the Summer Olympic Games.
Despite concerns regarding infrastructure, transportation and the country’s ability to accommodate visitors from around the world, Brazil last year hosted a record number of World Cup travelers. The event proved a huge triumph for Brazil, bringing one million visitors to the country and energizing Brazil’s campaign to expand travel to South America’s largest country.
This year, under the direction of new Minister of Tourism Henrique Alves, the country is implementing a series of programs to publicize the Olympic Games in Rio.
The initiatives include a push to end visa requirements for Americans prior to the beginning of next year’s Olympics. In a recent interview with TravelPulse, Alves described his agency’s strategy for a successful hosting of the 2016 Summer Olympics.
TravelPulse: What lessons did the country’s leaders learn during the 2014 World Cup that will help Brazil prepare for the numbers of travelers that will likely attend the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio?
Henrique Alves: Since 2012, Brazil has hosted three Formula 1 Grand Prixes, Rio + 20, World Youth Day (WYD), the Confederations Cup and the World Cup. These events have unique audiences and distinct characteristics.
With Rio + 20, the challenge was to deal with the reception of global leaders and the whole issue of logistics and security. WYD had a mass meeting with three million people, attracted by the presence of Pope Francis, the first international event of its pontificate.
At the World Cup, the degree of difficulty was raised by the distribution of this massive event around 12 host cities with different profiles. With the Formula 1 Grand Prix, we received in addition to the spectators, members of the hottest teams in the category of motor racing, a highly qualified audience that for two consecutive years elected the Brazilian stage as the best of the entire league.
Little by little, the distrust of Brazil's ability to perform mega events is dissipating. Both in WYD and the World Cup, tourists expressed interest in returning to Brazil. Among the foreigners who came to the Catholic event, 93 percent said in a ministry of tourism survey that they wanted to return to Brazil. In the World Cup, the percentage was even higher: 95.3 percent.
When analyzing the positive impacts of these events on the economy and projection achieved by the country as a tourist destination in the global market, we [see a] new window of opportunity hosting the Olympics in Brazil. The Olympic Games were cited as motivation to return to Brazil by 65 percent of World Cup tourists.
TP: How many travelers do you anticipate for the Games? How does that compare with the numbers of visitors the country handled during the World Cup in 2014?
HA: During the year of the World Cup, Brazil recorded the entry of 6,429,852 international tourists. For the first time, the country surpassed six million [visitors]. The expectation is that a similar movement is repeated at the Olympics and Paralympics Games. This will also be boosted by the fact that five other cities besides Rio de Janeiro will host Olympic football matches during the 2016 Games: Belo Horizonte, Brasilia, Salvador, Sao Paulo and Manaus.
TP: Brazilian airlines added lots of new flights in advance of the World Cup. Do you foresee a similar adding of flights for the 2016 Olympics?
HA: Yes, I believe that some adjustments to the route network should be made, with increasing demand, especially for Rio de Janeiro.
TP: What will be the greatest challenge Rio will face in preparing for the Summer Olympics? What tourism and public infrastructure systems or facilities remain in place from the 2014 World Cup that will help Rio during the 2016 Olympics?
HA: The World Cup left a great legacy to strengthen the infrastructure with improvements in airports, urban mobility in the host cities, [and] the integration of public agencies. The Olympics’ greatest effort is focused in the city of Rio de Janeiro, with unquestionable gains for Brazilian tourism.
In addition to public works, which are changing the outline of the city, expanding the supply of hotel beds, which required investments of $663.8 million, is of vital importance for Rio, which is a major Brazilian tourist destination.
The airport concession plan allows the federal government, with an investment of $1.7 billion in 13 new terminals, an increase of 81 percent to our service capacity. All these investments create a favorable ground for the 2016 Olympics.
TP: How does the final economic impact of the World Cup compare with the estimates you have made for the 2016 Olympics? How profitable will the event be for Brazil, economically and in terms of increasing travel to the country?
HA: During the World Cup, the Brazilian government waived visa requirements for travelers with tickets for the games. As a result, about 100,000 special visas were issued and one million foreigners visited the country.
In June and July 2014, the country registered a record inflow of dollars from tourism. Foreigners have left $1.6 billion in Brazil, an increase of almost 60 percent over the same period of 2013. At the Olympics, we can have even more positive results, since it is the biggest sporting event on the planet.
We are studying a similar action for the Olympics. We are working with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to exempt visas for Americans tourists in the period January to October 2016.
Even with the visa requirements for entry into the country, the United States is the second-largest source market of visitors to Brazil with 592,800 visitors in 2013. Americans are also the biggest spenders, with an average spend of $1,427, and are the ones who stayed the longest in the country for leisure, with an average of 20.6 days.
TP: What other initiatives will you explore in the next few weeks as you continue to prepare for the Games’ debut in 2016?
HA: We are working on some major projects, together with the other organs of the federal government, to make the Olympics a success like the World Cup. In addition to the visa waiver program for American tourists, we want to improve the quality of services offered to them.
The ministry of tourism has devoted special attention to professional qualification schemes for travel professionals. We plan to train 10,000 professionals from various segments of tourism between now and the opening of the Olympics.
Also, with a focus on improving the visitor experience, we are investing $4.2 million in tourist signs around Rio de Janeiro. During the World Cup, almost 81 percent of domestic and international tourists approved the tourist signs. This means that nearly 20 percent indicated that we need progress in this regard.
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