By Katherine Ferrara Johnson
Brazilian tourists have been flocking to Florida in record numbers and quickly have become the largest group of overseas visitors to the Sunshine State, creating changes that are rippling across the state’s travel industry.
Brazil set a visitor record in the Sunshine State in 2013, according to figures by the U.S. Commerce Department. Almost 1.2 million Brazilians flocked to Florida, up from 971,000 in 2012.
Metro Orlando ranked as the most popular destination statewide, drawing 768,000 Brazilian visitors, according to figures from Visit Orlando. Miami was the No. 2 spot.
The influx of visitors from Brazil has Florida’s tourism industry speaking their language.
All of Orlando’s major theme parks feature Portuguese translations on their websites and print park guides and maps in the language. SeaWorld Orlando has also created an early-entry program for Brazilian groups.
“They’ve changed the language by bringing Portuguese to Florida, and now [tourism and travel professionals] have to learn how to communicate. That communication and language means trust for Brazilians,” said Robertico Croes, chair of the Department of Tourism, Events and Attractions at the Rosen College of Hospitality Management at the University of Central Florida.
The influx of Brazilian tourists has dictated changes in many tourism-related businesses. For example, Croes notes that a number restaurants are changing their hours to accommodate the later dinners, as Brazilians often prefer to have their evening dinners around 9 p.m. They are also introducing more South American-inspired menus and Brazilian-themed restaurants around Florida. Brazil’s largest chain restaurant, Giraffas, opened its first outlet in North Miami in 2011.
While Visit Orlando has been marketing in Brazil for several years, Greater Fort Lauderdale opened a marketing office there last April.
Officials say they expect to see increased tourism, thanks to a recent addition by one of the city’s sports team and the possibility of increased airlift.
Orlando City Soccer, the MLS soccer franchise expansion team that is co-owned by a Brazilian businessman, recently recruited Brazilian superstar Kaka to play on the team.
“We expect that the arrival of Kaka will boost the foreign interest and we anticipate the opportunity to leverage his presence in the country,” said Visit Orlando CEO George Aguel.
Harb said he is hopeful that expanded flight service by Azul Brazilian Airlines to Fort Lauderdale and Orlando will finally take off later this year. The airline is currently waiting for regulatory approval from Brazil and U.S. authorities.