By Nelson Belen, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This week, on Wednesday, June 1st, the visa exemption began for American, Japanese, Canadian and Australian visitors traveling to Brazil. The initiative will last until September 18th, and is expected to stimulate tourism from these four countries leading up to the 2016 Rio Olympics.
The waiver initiative took shape last November, when now-suspended Brazil President, Dilma Rousseff, approved a bill allowing the ministries of both Tourism and Foreign Relations to determine visa exemptions for certain countries coming to Rio during the Games. Once the bill was approved, the ministries promptly announced that the exemptions would apply for the U.S., Japan, Canada and Australia.
According to the Ministry of Tourism’s annual survey, based on the number of visas issued in 2015, these four countries accounted for 759,087 visitors to Brazil last year. In 2015, the U.S. sent 575,796 tourists to Brazil. This was second-highest total of any country, other than Argentina, who sent more than two million visitors to Brazil, which was over thirty percent of all the visitors to the country.
Significantly, the Ministry’s figures also showed that American tourists are, on average, the highest spending visitors in the country. The typical American tourist in Brazil spends upwards of forty percent more than any other tourist, US$125 a day compared to US$87 a day for other tourist nationalities.
The Minister of Tourism, Henrique Eduardo Alves, admitted this was one of the main considerations in determining which countries would benefit from the visa exemption. “The federal government visa waiver for tourists from these four countries took into account a number of factors such as countries that spend the most in Brazil, are low migration risks, and have a strong Olympic tradition,” said Minister Alves.
For a country mired in a deep recession, the visa waiver could provide a much-needed boost. According to the World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), the initiative could increase tourism by 20 percent, accounting for an additional 75,000 international visitors. This increase could add US$80 million to the Brazilian economy.
Other international organizations have chimed in with praise for the waiver. “The visa waiver is an excellent idea to encourage the arrival of tourists to the Olympics and perhaps these visitors will stay a little longer to know other places beyond the host cities,” said Irma Karla, president of the National Federation of Tour Guides (FENAGTUR).
“The Brazilian bureaucracy is one of the factors that negatively affect the competitiveness of Brazil as a tourist destination,” said Manuel Gama, president of the Hoteliers Operators Forum in Brazil (FOHB), “so the FOHB supports all measures that seek to encourage the increased flow of tourists to our country, including those that simplify the procedures for granting visas.”
The visa waiver for these four countries, however, does have limits as it only pertains to those entering Brazil exclusively for tourism. Though the waiver’s goal is to stimulate visitors during the Olympics, visitors intending to apply for the waiver do not need an actual ticket to an Olympic event to do so.
To examine further the intricacies of the visa exemption, on Thursday, June 9th at Doca in Ipanema, The Rio Times will host its second “TALKS” speaker series event. Among the panel of experts brought together to discuss various aspects of the Rio Olympics for foreigners in Rio, American expatriate Michael Royster, a Brazilian lawyer and managing partner at Royster Advogados Associados, who has lived in Rio for nearly forty years, will talk specifically about the visa waiver for tourists and what conditions people should be aware of.