Last updated: 09:28 AM ET, Mon November 02 2015

How Brazil's Mega-Events Are Courting US Tourists

Destination & Tourism | Janeen Christoff | November 02, 2015

How Brazil's Mega-Events Are Courting US Tourists

PHOTO: Rio de Janeiro. (Courtesy Embratur)

At a recent event in New York City to promote the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Vinicius Lummertz, the president of the Brazilian Tourism Board (Embratur), spoke about how Brazil is “building a tourism brand around big events.”

He spoke about how hosting large-scale events such as the FIFA World Cup and the upcoming Olympic Games is helping to lead major infrastructure advancements within the country.

Lummertz said that events such as the Pan American Games (2007), the 28th World Youth Day with Pope Francis in 2013, the FIFA Confederations Cup 2013 and the FIFA World Cup in 2014 have made Brazil a reliable country in which to hold large-scale events that require big investments.

Indeed the largest events, the FIFA World Cup and the coming Olympic Games, have driven a lot of development within the country, which recently unveiled a $64 billion infrastructure plan aimed to spur even more growth and prop up a flagging economy in the country. The plan calls for to $27.9 billion for railroads, $21.3 billion for highways, $12.1 billion for ports and $2.7 billion for airports.

While infrastructure is improving, the ease with which U.S. visitors can come and go within Brazil remains difficult. Lummertz discussed the Brazilian government's efforts to eliminate the visa for Americans planning to visit Brazil next year – a major hurdle for U.S. visitors, who are one of the most important tourism markets for the country. Currently, the U.S. is the second-most important market for Brazil behind Argentina; in 2014, nearly 700,000 American tourists visited the country. Brazil and the U.S. have been hashing out the issue of visas for a long time. We charge Brazilians approximately $160 to visit the U.S. in addition to requiring them to fill out long forms for entry. And basically, Brazil does the same to us. However, Brazil is looking to increase its U.S. visitation and, therefore, is looking at ways to eliminate the process – at least temporarily.

“The passage of the visa waiver bill by the Brazilian congress can help increase the number of American tourists to the country next year,” he said. “But we are aiming to extend this visa waiver not just during the Olympics, but from January to September of 2016. This early opening can mean a lot, but we must go further.”

The country has taken other steps to end visa requirements, or at the very least streamline the process, for U.S. visitors. One such example is its recent launch of Global Entry. However, the visa waiver program still needs approval, and the measure may be voted on by the Senate within the next couple of weeks.

Lummertz also used his visit to highlight destinations beyond Rio de Janeiro, where the Olympic Games will take place, that would be of interest to North American travelers.

“Throughout the next year, Rio de Janeiro will be the main postcard and the gateway to our nation, but Brazil has so much more to offer to tourism in terms of natural beauty, sports, cuisine and culture,” he said. “We propose that journalists and tourists worldwide visit other Brazilian cities before, during and after the Games.”

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