With less than eight months before the first kick-off of the World Cup, Brazil is in the final planning phase for the soccer extravaganza — and Miami, as a major gateway to the Cup, is making big plans for an influx of travelers too.
During the June 12-July 13 event, Brazil needs to be ready for an anticipated 600,000 international soccer fans and three million Brazilian fanatics — and prepared for the logistics of getting them to 64 matches in 12 cities that span the 3.3-million-square-mile country.
So far nearly 71 percent of ticket requests (4,368,029) have come from Brazilians, but the runner-up is the United States, with 374,065 requests.
With so much U.S. interest in the Cup, Miami is expected to be a gateway city for soccer fans — not only for North Americans but for Europeans, Asians and even some Latin Americans, because Miami International Airport has more direct connections to Brazil than any other U.S. city.
MIA already has direct flights to seven of the 12 Brazilian World Cup cities and American Airlines plans to add service to two more — Porto Alegre and Curitiba — next month.
Brazilian airline TAM also has announced it is beginning direct service to Belem. Though it’s not a World Cup city, Belem would bring to 10 the number of Brazilian cities with direct service from Miami.
MIA Director Emilio T. González recently formed a working group with airlines and local tourism officials to discuss how South Florida can capitalize on and prepare for travelers to the World Cup.
“We need to have a vision because for two months we could see a significant uptick in passengers,’’ said González. “We’re looking at hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens going to Brazil.’’
New Qatar Airways service from Doha to Miami that begins June 10 also will help make Miami a gateway to Brazil for travelers from the Middle East and Asia, he said.
“We’re more than well-positioned to take advantage of World Cup travel,’’ said González.
The airport, he said, wants to make sure everything is functioning smoothly, from cab service to Customs processing. MIA’s facilities manager has been in touch with his counterpart at London’s Heathrow Airport to learn how the airport handled the crowds from the 2012 London Olympics.
Look for a local marketing push related to the World Cup early next year, said Rolando Aedo, senior vice president for marketing and tourism at the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau. “It will be something along the lines of ‘two-nation vacation’ or a ‘layover stayover.’”
The hope is that the soccer fans will tack a few extra days in Miami either coming or going to the Cup.
“We expect to be able to promote some very advantageous fare structures that will allow those flying through Miami for the World Cup to stay at area hotels for little or no extra cost,’’ said Aedo.
“The World Cup is arguably the world’s most global sporting event,’’ he said, and it’s a perfect opportunity to tout Miami’s virtues as a global city.
Meanwhile, transporting millions of fans around a continent-size country is expected to be a major challenge for Brazil.
If Brazil determines it won’t have sufficient domestic capacity to ferry fans between the World Cup host cities, it is considering opening its skies to foreign airlines to help out during the month-long event, said Flávio Dino, president of Embratur, the Brazilian tourism board.