Counting Down to The Olympics: One on One With The President of Brazil's Tourism Board
With weeks to go before the Aug. 5 start of Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s government and Embratur, the Brazilian Tourism Board, have tackled an array of economic, health, safety and political concerns in an intrepid effort to successfully prepare for the country’s second global sports event since the 2014 World Cup.
With less than a month to go before the event’s start, the event venues are complete, millions of tickets have been sold and more than 40 test events have been successfully completed. Brazil is now poised to display its tremendous diversity via a transformation of Rio de Janeiro into a showcase for a potential audience of 4.8 billion viewers.
We spoke with Jose Antonio Silva Parente, president of Embratur, Brazil's Tourism Board, to discuss his country’s readiness to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games.
TravelPulse: What initiatives remain with the Olympic Games only days away?
Jose Antonio Silva Parente: This will be the crowning moment of the organization of several events. It began with the Pan American Games in Rio in 2007 [and continued through] the FIFA 2014 World Cup. Now we can say with full conviction that we have plenty of experience handling major events.
We’ve complied with every deadline we have agreed on with the International Olympic Committee. The last facility was delivered last Saturday by the mayor of Rio de Janiero and that was the velodrome. All the mobility projects that had been promised in the proposal Rio made to win the Games have been complied with on time. Brazil and Rio specifically are now prepared to organize the greatest Olympics of all time.
TP: How does preparing for this event compare with the challenge of organizing the 2014 FIFA World Cup?
JS: The World Cup was organized in 12 cities; the number of visitors was much greater as was the number of tourists. And of course the Olympics is mainly concentrated in Rio with the exception of five other cities where [soccer] games will take place. The cities that were selected to host the soccer games were all host cities for the World Cup, so they have [renewed] facilities and transportation networks. So they will be ready for those events. There is great excitement in Rio and all of Brazil to have a successful Olympic Games. It will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
TP: How has the visa waiver program impacted the North American audience for this event?
JS: The visa waiver that was recently implemented applies to the U.S. and Canada, plus Australia and Japan. We expect a 20 percent increase in tourism from those countries. We have great expectations for the Americans that will be visiting the Games. The U.S. is a country with a great sports tradition with a rich culture in sports. We are ready to receive them. Just last week a major Brazilian newspaper came out with a story saying over 200,000 visitors will come from the U.S. It that is true it will exceed our expectations.
TP: There was a strong presence at the 2014 World Cup from people within Brazil traveling around the country. Will this be true during the Olympics? From where will most of the international visitors be traveling?
JS: Our hope is that beyond the 500,000 foreigners we expect for the 2016 Rio Games, one million Brazilians will come from all over the country to Rio. Besides Brazilians, of course, the two largest contingencies attending the Games will be Argentinians and Americans.
TP: What arrangements have been made for the safety and security of visitors?
JS: We will have the largest display of security in the history of the Olympic Games. Just to give you a comparison, the security force for the London Games numbered approximately 40,000 members. For the 2016 Games the number will be 85,000 for security purposes.
Also Brazil is collaborating with 50 different countries in terms of security. From all of the major intelligence organizations on the planet, we are getting information to guarantee a successful and safe Games. It’s worth remembering in the 2014 World Cup, which saw three times the number of visitors we are expecting for the Rio Olympics, there was not one serious case of violence against anyone.
TP: Will there be similar facilities to the sponsored gathering places and “fan zones” we saw during the World Cup present at the Olympics?
JS: Of course. Right now in downtown Rio we have an entire zone that has been completely renovated [with] two large areas dedicated to events of this type. One is the Casa Brasilia, or the Brazil House, where everything from music, dance, cooking and all other types of exhibits will be available.
And right next to that will be the Olympic Boulevard with is an initiative done with the city of Rio de Janeiro. There will be lots of events going on all the time, including shows, music, displays and live broadcasts on screens of the Olympic events going on.
TP: How are you advising potential travelers to approach Zika virus concerns?
JS: The summer Olympic Games will actually take place in our winter. Traditionally during the winter there is a very small number of the mosquitoes that transmit the Zika virus, the aedes aegypti.
Furthermore the government of Brazil has taken great efforts to fight the Zika virus, not only mobilizing all of civil society but we also have 220,000 men who have been mobilized to fight the aedes aegypti mosquito.
During all of the pre-Olympic tests so far, we have had over 8,000 athletes, not even counting the trainers, spectators and the families, there has not been one reported case of Zika. In March the city of Ro reported almost 8,000 cases. That number has dropped to 300. By August we expect that number to be very close to zero.
Our recommendations, from both the Brazilian government and the World Health Organization, are reasonable measures that will combat the virus. Things like pregnant women not attending the Games, using repellents and wearing long-sleeved shirts, which will be perfectly appropriate for this time of year.
TP: Brazil’s government has experienced historic upheaval in the last few weeks, with the president, Dilma Rousseff, stepping down to face impeachment proceedings. The country is also in the midst of an economic recession. How have the change in leadership and the economic troubles impacted Brazil’s preparation for the games?
JS: The change of command has impacted very little, almost zero, concerned with preparation for the Games. Both the previous administration and this current one has made every effort to ensure the Games were properly funded and there was proper support for them.
Also just today President Michel Temer release over $800 million to fund security for the Olympic Games. That decree was just approved today and that will be released to ensure the Games proceed.
TP: The World Cup, by most accounts, was profitable for Brazil and achieved goals of creating benefits for the country in terms of tourism and public infrastructure. Are you confident the same will be true for the Rio Olympics?
JS: Of course. I actually believe in Rio that will be the case even more so than the World Cup. Rio today is a completely different city. It’s been completely renewed by this experience. Entire neighborhoods have been revitalized, there have been large urban mobility projects undertaken. Many of the facilities built for the Games will become schools and training centers. As a matter of fact, the greatest legacy in my opinion for Rio and all of Brazil is the vision that we will leave to the country to the millions of people that will be watching. We believe that the Games will show people Brazil’s beauty, the hospitality of its people, our cuisine and our diversity.
Just the carrying of the Olympic torch will leave a huge legacy. It has been to over 300 cities in Brazil, not only tourist sites but cities far and wide. There has been tremendous coverage of that. We think that will also shed a lot of attention on the country.
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