Skift Take

Brazil understandably wants equal treatment for its citizens when it comes to visa policies, but right now doesn't seem like the best time.

Brazil’s plan is to reinstate tourist visa requirements for the the U.S., Japan, Australia and Canada will reduce tourism from those markets and make the country a less competitive destination. The reinstated visa application procedure details haven’t yet been announced.

Last month, the Brazilian government announced that citizens from the U.S., Japan, Australia and Canada need to have a tourist visa starting October 1. Since 2019, nationals from those countries had been allowed to stay in the country for up to 90 days with the possibility of extensions of up to 180 days. Before 2019, tourists had to apply for a visa prior to travel.

Tour operators have been surprised and confused about the new rule. “Every single person working in tourism is asking themselves at this moment, ‘Why put it in at this moment?’” said Intrepid Travel Brazil General Manager Fernando Rodriguez. “If we want to put in that visa requirement at a really bad moment, now would be the time.”

2023 seems to be starting off strong in Brazil’s post-pandemic tourism recovery. In the first two months, visits totalled 1.5 million for international tourists, according to Embratur, Brazil’s tourism board. In 2021, the country received 745,000 international visitors, far from its 6.4 million in 2019.

Visas will harm Brazi’s competitiveness in the region. Tourists typically make Brazil part of a Latin American multi-country itinerary. The visas will make tourists think twice about whether to include the country. “People don’t want to apply for visas for a trip most of the time,” said Rodriguez.

This will mean lost tourist dollars and this comes at a time when travelers, especially Americans, are on a spending spree. Americans spent a record $17.4 billion traveling abroad in February, the U.S. National Travel and Tourism Office found.

One way to boost tourism is to remove visas, a fundamental fact about travel. A major reason why the UK, Japan and France are top source markets for the U.S., for example, is because they are part of the Visa Waiver Program. 

Brazil’s new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who took office in January this year, backed the new visa policy. It was adopted based on the principle of reciprocity, said Marcelo Freixo, president of Embratur. At the moment, the U.S Japan, Australia and Canada continue to require Brazilians to have a visa in order to visit their countries. 

Starting in June 2019, then-President Jair Bolsanaro exempted the aforementioned countries in hopes that they would reciprocate on visas in some form, as well as to support the tourism industry. The visa exemption is one of the many policies the Bolsonaro administration pursued to turbo charge tourism, which included privatization of airports, airlines and parks.

In 2019, the U.S. was the top feeder market for Brazil at 590,000 visits, up from 538,000  from the year prior, according to Embratur. Canada similarly grew from over 40,000 to over 70,000 in the same period. During the pandemic, both segments dropped massively, with the U.S. and Canada sending 132,000 and 8,000, respectively.

How much it will reduce international tourism from the U.S. is too early to tell. The visa model has not yet been announced, said Freixo. “It’s in theory given us six months to inform, but it’s hard to inform when there are no specifics yet,” said Rodriguez. He said hopes it doesn’t repeat Chile’s visa requirements for Australians last year, which turned out to be overbearing and slowed that source market’s return.

Poor processing times can hurt the international tourism recovery of any destination. A Skift megatrend for 2023 is that visa processing backlogs will slow the recovery of the global tourism economy. One of the reasons the U.S. won’t be fully back to its pre-pandemic level until 2025 is because first-time visitors from Brazil, India, Mexico and other top source markets have to wait over 400 days on average for a visa interview.


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Tags: brazil, coronavirus recovery, international tourism, international travel, latin america

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