Economic growth in Brazil is sluggish, inflation is stubbornly high, the real has sunk against the dollar and social unrest has roiled the country in recent weeks.
That’s not exactly a confluence of events that should bring a smile to South Florida tourism officials this July — a time when Brazilians, who spent a record $1.5 billion in Miami-Dade County last year — typically flock to South Florida.
The Brazilian newspaper Folha de São Paulo recently did a survey of travel agencies and found that a 13-day package tour to Orlando and Miami, which cost around $4,000 at the beginning of March, was16 percent more in late June, pushing the price of a Florida vacation to its highest level in more than four years. But the Brazilians keep coming. Although mid-year international visitor numbers for Dade won’t be available for another month, tourism officials say this is shaping up to be another bang-up year for Brazilian visitors.
The flights from Brazil are full, and Brazilians still seem to be buying up a storm on foreign trips despite the 11.4 percent slide of the real to 2.25 to the dollar since last year. In May, Brazilians spent $2.2 billion abroad, the most since the Central Bank began keeping such records in 1969.
This July there are 112 weekly flights from Miami International Airport to Brazil, compared to 91 flights last summer. Brazil is by far the airport’s top international market, and MIA serves seven Brazilian cities — more than any other U.S. airport, said Greg Chin, airport communications director.
American Airlines flies to all seven cities and offers 11 daily flights — two more than last year — from Miami to Brazil. Another flight has been added to São Paulo, bringing daily service to four flights, and an extra flight has been added to Rio de Janeiro. American also offers service to Brasilia, Manaus, Recife, Salvador and Belo Horizonte.
“This speaks to the demand for Miami. Many of these flights are sold out — at premium pricing,’’ said Rolando Aedo, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau.
“Despite what’s going on with the economy, Brazil is richer than it was five years ago,’’ said Brazilian Paulo Bacchi as he lounged on a white leather sofa at his Artefacto furniture store as a party swirled around him.
About 1,000 people packed the store at the Village of Merrick Park for the launch of Design House, Bacchi’s invitation-only annual showcase for designers. He always times the event for July to get maximum exposure among Brazilian jetsetters who are in town. Although Bacchi concedes that “Miami isn’t a bargain anymore,’’ he added, “It’s still cheaper than Brazil. The prices are a third of what they are in Brazil.’’
Cascading taxes and restrictions on imports push the price of the smart phones, tablet computers, designer purses, sneakers and name-brand clothing that Brazilians covet to sky-high levels at home. Even the price of a cheese pizza in São Paulo is $30, laments Neneto Camargo, a São Paulo executive who is buying a condominium on the 25th floor of One Thousand Museum Tower in downtown Miami. “In Miami, you pay $10 or $12 for that pizza.’’ And he added, it’s still cheaper to fly from São Paulo to Miami than from São Paulo to Recife, a port city in Brazil’s Northeast.