A Rio Runs Through It

More than a third of Brazilians who travel to the US go to the happiest place on earth

September 27, 2013
September 27, 2013

In 1941, Walt Disney traveled to Brazil with a team of illustrators on a propaganda mission for the United States, charged with sowing the values of democracy in a nation where Nazi and Fascist ideas were taking root. Seven decades later, it’s the Walt Disney Company that is reaping the rewards.

Brazilians are now visiting Disney World in droves. In fact, 35.7% of arrivals from Brazil to the US arrive in Orlando, Florida, where Disney World is located, according to the US International Trade Administration, a trend prominent enough for US president Barack Obama to take notice. In March, Obama noted Brazilians’ fondness for Disney World and described US efforts to reduce visa processing times in Brazil. Just last week, he mentioned it again.

Disney CEO Bob Iger is a member of the Export Council, but his Company is not waiting for reductions in government bureaucracy. Disney World officials told CNN last year that following a record number of Brazilian visitors at the park, they hired more than 50 Portuguese-speaking “Super Greeters” in order to better serve the growing number of Brazilian guests—a number that has since risen to nearly 100.

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The more welcoming environment combined with marketing has yielded impressive results. During the Bank of America Merrill Lynch Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference on September 12th, Disney CFO Jay Rasulo said Brazilians drove the 7% year-on-year international attendance growth seen at Disney World.

Disney has cited the importance of Brazilian visitors to their Florida theme park in its last six consecutive earnings calls, according to transcripts compiled by FactSet. It’s no wonder—Orlando seems to be teeming with Brazilians, especially compared with the rest of the US.

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While Brazil’s proximity to Orlando contributes to the city’s popularity among Brazilian tourists, it’s not the only reason. For all South American countries, many of which are closer to Florida, 29.1% of US arrivals are in Orlando; for Brazil, the figure is 35.7%.

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“We aggressively started marketing in Brazil—especially in Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo,” Brian Martin, corporate communications director for Visit Orlando, told Quartz. A mere five years later those efforts appear to be paying off. “We’ve been growing at double digit rates for the past few years,” Martin said.

No other country included in the fast-growing large-population countries group called the BRICS—Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa—show a similar trend in visiting Orlando or even Florida at large. Most visitors from those countries are traveling to New York or Los Angeles.

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To satisfy a deep desire to commune with Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy (or perhaps José Carioca), Disney World is significantly closer than Disneyland. A Brazilian traveler looking to experience the original but quainter magic at Disneyland would have to fly nearly 2,000 miles farther from Sao Paulo to get to Los Angeles than Orlando.

TAM, Brazil’s largest airline, flies two non-stop 8.5 hour flights between Orlando and Sao Paulo daily.

Fortunately for Florida, Brazilian tourists have been spending more and more money, too. Brazilians spent a record $2.227 billion abroad last month and are expected to spend nearly $20 billion by year’s end. Much of that will have been spent in the US, of which a sizable chunk will likely end up in Mickey Mouse’s pocket.

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