January 31, 2020 / 4:54 PM / a month ago

U.S. travel to Brazil jumps 39% with visa waiver

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The number of Americans booking flights to Brazil has jumped 39% since the government of President Jair Bolsonaro waived a visa requirement for U.S. citizens in June, according to its official tourism agency, which is devising plans to draw more.

Tourists are seen at the Christ the Redeemer site atop of Corcovado Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil January 31, 2020. REUTERS/Lucas Landau

“Brazil is much more than the land of caipirinhas and tiny bikinis. We want to focus on ecotourism and our vast natural resources, from the Amazon rainforest to the Pantanal wetlands,” Embratur President Gilson Machado told Reuters on Thursday.

Machado said he spoke to U.S. airlines last week about adding direct flights to more cities in Brazil.

With an annual budget that was increased by Bolsonaro to $120 million from just $8 million, Embratur will launch a publicity campaign to sell Brazil as a new country - and a much safer one.

Violent crime in Brazilian cities dropped by 25% in Bolsonaro’s first year in office and public security has been reinforced at tourist hot spots, Machado said.

Safety concerns, along with inconvenient flights, poor infrastructure and high costs have long held back Brazil’s tourism industry. International tourism represents just 2.5% of Brazilian export revenue — compared with 7.5% in Argentina and nearly 17% in Uruguay, according to World Bank data and the United Nations World Tourism Organization.

Brazil eliminated tourist visa requirements for visitors from the United States, Canada, Australia and Japan in June and is planning to do the same for India and China to boost tourism.

Embratur hopes to turn Brazil into a global scuba diving destination, with 1,200 old boats, vehicles and planes to be deposited in the sea to create artificial reefs.

Machado will also work on Bolsonaro’s pet project, which has drawn ire from environmentalists: developing a “Brazilian Cancun” in Angra dos Reis, a bay near Rio de Janeiro dotted with more than 300 islands and hundreds of pristine beaches.

Machado said it would require removal of “excessive bureaucracy” to clear local and federal environmental hurdles.

Another proposal to draw more American visitors is financing a feature film that would broadcast Brazil’s natural beauty, he said.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Dan Grebler

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