Will visa exemptions really boost tourism in Brazil?

. Mar 18, 2019

As President Jair Bolsonaro prepares to meet with his American counterpart Donald Trump, Brazil has decided to lift visa requirements for citizens from the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Japan. The move is unilateral—that is, it doesn’t require reciprocity from these countries, breaking with a long tradition in Brazilian diplomacy.

The measure is the latest chapter in a long-term demand by the Minister of Tourism, which argues that fewer visa requirements will translate into more tourists—thus bringing more revenue and business to Brazil. However, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has defended the principle of reciprocity throughout multiple administrations. The country has always required a visa from citizens of nations that demand Brazilians apply for visas themselves. That is, until now.

</span></p> <div class="flourish-embed" data-src="visualisation/1111359"></div> <p><script src=""></script></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil&#8217;s new Foreign Minister, Ernesto Araújo, says the country has changed its stance in order to strengthen economic and </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">diplomatic ties with the U.S</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. &#8220;There was a shift in how we do foreign policy here. Waiving visas fits into this context, but this measure could have been put on the table as part of broader negotiations, perhaps requiring some gesture in return,&#8221; says political scientist Maurício Santoro.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">&#8220;[The measure] places Brazil in a position of weakness before the U.S., as there is no sign that they are willing to do the same. I believe this was a hasty gesture.”</span></p> <h2>Beefing up an incipient tourism industry</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Luring Americans into vacationing in Brazil is not only a matter of ideology. A </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">study</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> by the Ministry of Tourism and a private think tank showed that between 2013 and 2017, Americans comprised the second-largest group of tourists in Brazil, behind only visitors from neighboring Argentina. However, there are fewer Americans coming now than in there were 2013—despite Brazil having hosted mega-events such as the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">2014 World Cup</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> and 2016 Rio Olympics in the meantime. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Among the top 10 nationalities which visit Brazil every year, only Americans need (or needed) a visa.</span></p> <hr /> <p><img loading="lazy" class="alignnone size-large wp-image-14863" src="" alt="brazil visa policies tourism" width="1024" height="546" srcset=" 1024w, 300w, 768w, 610w, 1200w" sizes="(max-width: 1024px) 100vw, 1024px" /></p> <hr /> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil had already tried to cut down bureaucracy for Americans, Canadians, Australians, and Japanese tourists by creating the so-called</span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;"> electronic visa</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> last year. According to the government&#8217;s estimates, the move increased visa applications by 35.2 percent. The Ministry of Tourism </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">projects</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that if all visas granted were converted into trips, Brazil would then have received 217,858 additional tourists in 2018—an impact of USD 1 billion. Embratur, the Brazilian agency of tourism promotion, foresees an increase of 25 percent of tourists as a result of the latest visa exemptions. </span></p> <h2>Why isn&#8217;t Brazil a tourist hot spot?</h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">While the world is traveling more than ever, Brazil&#8217;s tourism industry has been stagnant since the late 1990s. And 94 percent of tourism-related revenue comes from Brazilian tourists who travel within the country—not from foreigners. This is despite Brazil being one of the most postcard-perfect countries in the globe. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">But Mr. Santoro points out that bureaucracy is not the real issue. “Broader issues play a large role, such as violence, our lack of infrastructure, and a poorly-trained workforce that lacks English proficiency. I think that this measure will have little impact.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">In 2017, Paulo Rabello de Castro, a former president of Brazil’s National Development Bank, also </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">claimed</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that security problems have a devastating effect on tourism. Mr. Castro argued that violence in post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro—paired with the </span><a href=""><span style="font-weight: 400;">worst recession in Brazilian history</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">—has led to pedestrian tourism numbers. “The issue of tourism is linked to security. The issue began to take on a federal dimension,” he says. “I think we’re still behind in this game.”</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Celso Amorim, Brazil’s Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Lula administration, also does not see visa requirements as a true roadblock for fostering Brazilian tourism, nor does he believe this latest measure will help it. “I lived in the U.S. twice, and I never met a businessman or a common person who said they tried to go to Brazil but the visa [process] was so complicated that they gave up,” Mr. Amorim told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">.</span></p> <h2><strong>Room for improvement</strong></h2> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Brazil’s tourism sector entities have shown optimism about the visa exemptions but highlighted the need for other actions to further boost tourism.</span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">Magda Nassar, acting president of the Brazilian Travel Agencies Association (Abav) believes the measure will help attract tourists and investments to Brazil. However, other measures are still necessary, such as “increasing the offer of flights outside of the Rio de Janeiro/São Paulo axis and developing new tourism products. We’re still very focused on the beach segment but there are more options with great potential to attract foreigners,” she told </span><b>The Brazilian Report</b><span style="font-weight: 400;">. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">She also believes that major sporting events (such as the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games) helped foster interest in Brazil, but that security is still a major concern for foreigners who wish to visit. </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">FecomercioSP, the association that represents trade, services and the tourism sector in the state of São Paulo, estimates that the number of American tourists in Brazil may grow fourfold after the visa exemptions come into force, leading to an increase of consumption of BRL 6.4 billion per year.   </span></p> <p><span style="font-weight: 400;">However, this projection will only be reached with “coherent public policies and understanding the dynamics of different markets.” In a statement, the association claims it is necessary to “think about clear strategies to combat violence, improve infrastructure and teach foreign languages to qualify the workforce.”</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">

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Natália Scalzaretto

Natália Scalzaretto has worked for companies such as Santander Brasil and Reuters, where she covered news ranging from commodities to technology. Before joining The Brazilian Report, she worked as an editor for Trading News, the information division from the TradersClub investor community.

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