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June 03, 2015

Visa Breakthrough Could Boost Travel to Brazil Through Atlanta

by Trevor Williams May 22, 2015
Clipping from Global Atlanta

Atlanta has become an active gateway for travel to Brazil, but procedural concerns could stifle the country’s efforts to draw more travelers from the U.S. as it prepares to host one of the world’s largest sporting events.

While excited about the destination itself, tour operators at a recent event on Brazilian tourism in Atlanta complained that the visa application process has made traveling there more onerous and expensive for their clients, rendering the country less competitive than South American destinations like Peru, Argentina and Chile. 

With a $160 fee, a tourist visa to Brazil tacks on an extra $200 or so after processing, and the drawn-out process requires travelers to interact with a consulate, making it tough for them to pick up and go to Brazil on a whim. That could deter some visitors during the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. 

"We do have still a problem in the sense that a lot of people don’t want to take the time to apply for the visa. It’s very bureaucratic, so it’s the more adventurous and the more go-getters who will go,” Miguel Jerónimo, head of Embratur’s office in New York, told Global Atlanta at the event. 

That could change soon. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is expected to sit down with President Obama by September during a state visit to the U.S. She had delayed it last year after the bilateral relationship was rattled by NSA spying revelations. On the expected list of discussion points will be the issue of “reciprocity,” the practice of charging Americans visa fees in line with what Brazilians are charged to travel here. 

Some hold out hope for an even bolder move: addition of Brazil to the U.S. Visa Waiver Program, which provides the citizens of 38 countries visa-free entry on 90-day tourism and business trips to the U.S., provided they offer the same benefits to American travelers. Mauro Viera, Brazil’s current foreign minister, was Brazil’s ambassador to the U.S. when flights were expanded about five years ago and understands the importance of travel to both economies, said Mr. Jerónimo. 

“It would mean so much business for both sides,” he said of visa-waiver status. 

Brazil's “rejection rate” on U.S. visa seekers is about 3.5 percent, close to getting under the 3 percent level required by Congress for visa-waiver countries. The U.S. is said to be entertaining the status for Colombia, with which it has a free trade agreement but where the rejection rate still hovers around 10 percent. 

While awaiting a diplomatic breakthrough, officials from the Atlanta consulate assured travel agents that in advance of the 2016 Olympics, a special “window” would be set up to expedite visas for group travelers. 

More than 90 percent of those who went to Brazil for the 2014 soccer World Cup left satisfied, many citing the warmth of Brazilians and food as Brazil’s top draws in surveys. The World Cup brought a $7.5 billion impact to the Brazilian economy, and left infrastructure 

With the Olympics coming next year, Brazil believes it can attract 10 million visitors by 2020. They would experience the continental country’s diverse array of landscapes and cultures, from Amazon rainforests to the pristine beaches, and from Afro-Brazilians in the northeast to their countrymen of European ancestry in the south.  

Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines Inc. hopes to carry a lot of this traffic. Though the airline is set to reduce service to Brazil next year to offset economic headwinds, those cuts amount to the loss of maybe one frequency per week on daily routes and shouldn’t affect travelers’ bookings too much, said Luciano Macagno, Delta’s director in Sao Paulo. 

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