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How Does Brazil's Travel Boom Affect Florida?

All eyes are on Brazil right now as the country hosts the World Cup and a throng of soccer fans from the U.S., Mexico, and other countries. Brazil returns the foreign-travel favor, and then some. The country is one of the fastest-growing markets for travel to the U.S., as its theme-park aficionados and brand-savvy bargain hunters come to the U.S. in growing numbers. For The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS  ) , Comcast Corp. (NASDAQ: CMCSA  ) holding Universal Studios, and Seaworld Entertainment (NYSE: SEAS  ) , this is good news.

A long-term trend of more Brazilian visitors to the U.S.
The number of Brazilian visitors to the U.S. has been on the rise for years. From 2006 to 2013, there was a 292% increase in Brazilian travel to the United States. In 2006, the U.S. saw 525,000 arrivals from Brazil. In 2013, there were more than 2 million. Tourist visa wait times have fallen sharply over the past couple of years, from several weeks or months to an average of less than two weeks, as the federal government has pushed to make it easier for tourists to get here and spend money.

US Travel Association

By 2018, the commerce department expects the U.S. to host more than 3 million travelers from Brazil annually, as the country's middle class continues to grow. That projected increase places Brazil among the top five fastest-growing markets for inbound U.S. travel, along with fellow BRIC nations China and India, as well as Taiwan and Colombia.

Here to have fun, mostly in Florida
If past trends carry forward, these tourists are going to be here to ride rollercoasters and go shopping. Almost three-quarters of 2013's visitors from Brazil were leisure travelers, with fewer than 10% each traveling on business, to visit family and friends, or to attend a conference. The majority were in their late 30s, with a median household income around $60,000. These travelers stayed an average of 10-15 nights stateside and planned their U.S. excursions months in advance.

Sightseeing and shopping may top the to-do list for Brazilians in the U.S., but these travelers are also big theme-park fans. Fully half of the Brazilians who come to the U.S. go to at least one amusement park while they're here, which may explain why Florida -- and Orlando, in particular -- is the most popular destination for tourists from Brazil. Of the 1.3 million Brazilians who visited Florida in 2013, 768,000 of them went to Orlando, making Brazil the largest international market for Orlando travel and tourism.

Disney caters to this booming market by going out of its way to make Brazilian guests feel welcome. Walt Disney World has a staff of dozens of "super greeters" who are fluent in Portuguese to answer questions and help out with foreign tour groups. Disney said the "super greeter" staff, which also features Spanish-speaking employees, tripled in size between 2010 and 2013. Disney, Sea World, and Universal Studios Florida all have Portuguese web sites for their Brazilian guests.

Brand-savvy shoppers with plenty of cash
According to the Orlando Sentinel, trips to Orlando are getting more popular with middle-class and well-to-do Brazilian teenagers, who typically show up with as much as $5,000 in pocket money, ready to shop for friends, family, and themselves. Because even pricey items like designer handbags and Apple gadgets are much cheaper in the U.S. than at home, it makes sense for Brazilians to stock up while they're abroad.

The Brazilian travel bounty is mostly a Florida phenomenon. Outside of Orlando, Miami was the second most popular U.S. destination for Brazilians in 2013, with 738,000 visitors. New York State ranked just behind Florida, and those two states capture almost all of the visitor traffic from Brazil, because 74% of these tourists visit just one state during their stay. Other locales hoping to court the Brazilian tourist trade have their work cut out for them.

It could be worth the effort. In 2006, Brazilian travelers spent $2.6 billion in the U.S., and that figure grew to $10.5 billion in 2013. As more tourists come, that annual amount will almost certainly climb.

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Casey Kelly-Barton

Casey is a writer and journalist who follows the consumer goods, travel, and tech industries for The Motley Fool.

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