B.C. tourism marketers urge Ottawa to eliminate Brazilian visa restrictions

Brazilian government is dropping longtime requirement that Canadian visitors require visas

Rio-By Aleksandar Todorovic Shutterstock
Rio de Janeiro is one of the destinations that will benefit from Brazil president Jair Bolsonaro dropping visa requirements for Canadians and Americans earlier this week | Aleksandar Todorovic / Shutterstock

What happened: Tourism marketers in B.C. are calling on the federal government to lift visa restrictions on Brazilians who enter Canada in the wake of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announcing earlier this week that Canadians will be able to visit his country visa-free starting June 17. 

Why it matters: Tourism is one of B.C.’s biggest industries and Brazilian visits to B.C. surged 64.6% in 2018 after Canada loosened visa requirements in 2017

Tourism Industry Association of British Columbia (TIABC) CEO Walt Judas told Business in Vancouver that loosening or eliminating visas for visitors is effective in encouraging foreigners to come to Canada on vacations. Canada, however, has not said that it will reciprocate with Brazil and allow its citizens to visit Canada visa-free.

He believes that the main reason why Brazilians visited B.C. 64.6% more times, for a total of 35,675 visits in 2018, is because the Canadian government in May 2017 changed visa requirements to allow many Brazilians to enter the country with a simple electronic authorization, instead of a more cumbersome visa process.

Brazilians became eligible at that time to get the simpler electronic authorizations, along with those from Bulgaria and Romania, if they:

•either held a Canadian visitor visa within the past 10 years, or currently hold a valid United States non-immigrant visa; and

•enter the country at a Canadian airport and intend to stay a maximum of six months.

“The tourism sector – associations like TIABC and our counterparts at TIAC (Tourism Industry Association of Canada) – are constantly encouraging the government to loosen visa requirements for relatively safe countries, where we have reciprocal arrangements, or where we see some potential [for increased tourism],” he said. “Brazil is relatively safe.”

The surge in Brazilian visitors last year meant that South America’s largest country surpassed France, which had 35,181 of its citizens visit B.C. in 2018. There were more than twice as many Brazilians who visited B.C. last year, as there were Italians (16,957). A final comparison for perspective is that there were more Brazilians who visited B.C. in 2018 than citizens from all Nordic European countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden) combined.

“We always welcome removal of visa restrictions and increased flights or access for any country,” said Destination British Columbia (DBC) manager of corporate communications Clare Mason.

DBC, however, still considers Brazil a small source of visitors and one that has yet to become high on the list of key markets to target with marketing dollars.

A greater number of visits prompted by visa-free access could change that thinking.

She also had a different theory to why the Brazilian-visitor count skyrocketed last year – an increased number of non-stop flights to Vancouver International Airport from Mexico.

“The increase [in Brazilian visitors to] B.C. is due to changes in routing, with more Brazilians entering B.C. directly via Mexico, and the U.S., instead of [those visitors] coming to B.C. after crossing Canada customs in Toronto [or] Montreal,” Mason told BIV.

Tourism Vancouver CEO Ty Speer added that "it is reasonable to think that removing a visa requirement could support the business case for adding such a direct flight" between Vancouver and a Brazilian destination such as Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo. 

Here is a link to the complete data for international visitors to B.C. in 2018.

The number of Canadians who went to Brazil in 2018 also surged as a result of the Brazilian government allowing Canadians to visit with an electronic authorization starting in 2017.  Brazilian tourism ministry data shows that 71,000 Canadians visited Brazil in 2018, up 45%.