Brazil cranks up World Cup plans

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.

Most of the 12 cities — Rio, Sao Paulo, Manaus, Fortaleza, Natal, Recife, Salvador, Brasilia, Cuiaba, Belo Horizonte, Curitiba and Porto Alegre — are well beyond driving distance from each other. Even flights between some of them can occupy most of a day because of layovers.

Aedo said flights from Miami to northern Brazil take less time than flights between some Brazilian cities. “So we’re exploring Miami’s potential as not just a gateway city but also as a base for a traveler’s World Cup operations,’’ he said.

After the final World Cup draw on Dec. 6 when national teams are assigned to host cities, Dino said, Brazil will decide whether it needs more internal airlift.

“We are having a series of meetings with the federal government, being coordinated by the presidency, to define the measures to be taken,’’ Dino said in a conference call with Brazilian and international journalists Tuesday.

Brazil, said Dino, plans to “have our arms open to welcome all visitors.” To that end, it launched a $10-million advertising campaign Wednesday aimed at travelers from the United States, Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Germany and the United Kingdom.

Next year, Dino said, Embratur expects to spend 160 million to 170 million reais ($73.3 million to $77.85 million) on international publicity.

But first it will have to address some big questions at home.

Asked about reports that some hotels plan to jack up their prices fivefold during the Cup and that airfares would shoot up too, Dino said, “The concerns are real. We are currently under negotiations with the hotels, with FIFA [the international soccer federation] and with the airlines in order to seek fair prices.”

Security also will be an issue.

During the Confederations Cup last June, millions of Brazilians took to the streets — first to protest a Sao Paulo transit fare increase and the high cost of preparations for both the World Cup and the 2016 Rio Olympics, then to decry everything from poor education and healthcare to government corruption.

Although the government has tried to address some of these concerns, protests have continued sporadically and sometimes violently. Most Brazilians expect they will be a part of the landscape during the World Cup as well.

“The protests are part of the moment that Brazil is currently living,’’ said Dino. Brazilian officials wish for an end to violence and more dialogue, he said. But the protests are also a sign of a fully functioning Brazilian democracy that “we fought hard to achieve,’’ said Dino.

“We believe that these demonstrations that also occur in many other places around the planet will not hinder our goal of hosting a good World Cup,” he said.

Demand for tickets already far outstrips the supply. In the first ticket application period, which closed Oct. 10, FIFA World Cup received more than 6.16 million requests — 726,067 for the opening match in Sao Paulo and 751,165 for the championship game in Rio de Janeiro’s famed Maracanã stadium alone.

FIFA will resort to an electronic random selection draw to parcel out the tickets, but it said applicants who qualify for priority access — the elderly, students and those enrolled in Bolsa Familia, a poverty-fighting program — will be included in the initial round of the electronic selection.

Application for the next round of tickets begins Nov. 5 and will be first-come, first-served.