By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Friday, July 15th, not only marks exactly three weeks before the start of the most watched sports event in the world on August 5th, it also marks 45 days since the visa exemption for tourists from the United States, Canada, Japan and Australia was enacted. In its first 45 days, the measure has proved overwhelmingly positive, impacting tourism sectors and receiving universal praise from the host and visiting countries.
The Brazil ministries of Tourism and Foreign Relations announced the details of the visa waiver in November 2015, namely that the exemption would apply for the U.S., Japan, Canada and Australia beginning on June 1st until September 18th.
The selection of the four beneficiary countries took into account the high flow of tourists from these countries to Brazil, the spending of these visitors in the country, the countries’ strong Olympic tradition and low immigration risk and security.
According to Brazil’s Tourism Ministry, the positive effects of the visa exemption were seen immediately in Japan and Canada. Data from Skyscanner, a global search engine for airline tickets, accommodations and car rentals, showed that following the visa exemption, searches for trips to Brazil within Japan more than doubled, increasing by 114% over the same period in 2015.
In addition, KNT, JTB and Top Tour, Japan’s top three tour companies offering trip packages for the Rio 2016 Games, have reported that almost all the tickets and packages for the Rio 2016 Olympic and Paralympic Games on sale in Japan have entirely sold-out.
With Tokyo set to host the next Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020 combined with the visa exemption, experts expect the total number of Japanese tourists visiting Brazil this year to easily surpass 2015’s total of 70,102.
In Canada, Skyscanner data showed searches for trips to Brazil grew 25% following the visa exemption. In a statement, the Canadian Embassy said, “In the World Cup, the combination of this great event and the visa waiver resulted in an increase of ten thousand Canadian tourists in Brazil.”
The Embassy added, “Canadians are great sports fans, so we anticipate that the Olympics and the visa waiver to further motivate the arrival of fans of Team Canada, including family and friends of athletes.”
With a strong link between education (Brazil is currently the largest source of international students in Australia outside of Asia) and tourism between Brazil and Australia, Ministry of Tourism officials also expect a twenty percent increase in the number of Australians who will visit Rio during the Olympics compared to the number that visited the country during the World Cup. That number was around 20,000, one of the largest groups of foreigners that visited Brazil for that event.
Finally, in a statement, the U.S. Embassy in Brazil, praised the visa exemption and highlighted the expectation that up to 200,000 Americans will travel to Brazil during the Games, more than double the 90,000 that travelled to Brazil for the World Cup. “Brazil’s decision to temporarily suspend the visa requirement for US citizens is a positive initiative. This will facilitate the travel of Americans who will attend the Games,” the U.S. Embassy said.
For the interim Tourism Minister Alberto Alves, the favorable impact reinforces the success of the federal government’s strategy. “This innovative initiative of the Brazilian government will bring even more visitors to our country, generating more jobs and income,” said Minister Alves. “We will have the chance to show to American, Canadian, Japanese and Australian tourists all our natural and cultural charms.”
The Rio 2016 Summer Olympic Games are scheduled to begin on August 5th going until August 21st, followed by the Paralympics, beginning September 7th until the 18th.