Nevada tourism officials see Brazil as promising new market

SPARKS — It isn’t every day that you’ll have a person proclaim in a public meeting that she lost her virginity in Nevada.

But that’s what happened — sort of — at Tuesday’s Nevada Tourism Commission meeting.

Ana Beatriz Di Pietro was among five international representatives who made presentations to the commission about their efforts to bring more tourists to Nevada. The visit to Northern Nevada also provided opportunities to go on familiarization trips to better describe to visitors what they can expect when they arrive in the Silver State.

According to accounts of one of those familiarization trips, Di Pietro shrieked on her bus as it was traveling through Virginia City. It had started to snow.

Having lived in Brazil, Di Pietro had never seen or experienced snow before. When the bus stopped, she was the first to get out and play in it.

“I’m not a snow virgin anymore,” Di Pietro told commissioners, who roared with laughter. Tourism leaders will undoubtedly like the kind of customer Di Pietro says Brazil will provide.

Brazil is one of the most promising new markets for the state and the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority to attract customers. Recent studies show Brazil has slid ahead of other developing markets as a prime prospecting ground.

About 1.5 million tourists arrived in the United States from Brazil last year, but many of them went to Florida because American Airlines offers direct flights from Brazil’s major cities to Miami.

One-stop flights from Brazil to Las Vegas have been in play for years with customers connecting to Southern Nevada through Miami, Dallas, Houston and Los Angeles. The start-up of Las Vegas service by Panama-based Copa Airlines in June could be a game-changer for the future as the airline develops schedules for easy transfers from Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo to Las Vegas through Panama City.

More importantly, the process of Brazilians getting visas to travel to the United States is improving. It used to be that the application process would take more than three months and would require would-be travelers to travel for a day to get an interview that would last less than 30 minutes to apply for a visa.

Las Vegas tourism leaders pressed for a solution, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton pushed for greater resources in Brazil. The result is that now the visa request process takes less than five days.

It could get even better next year as Clinton has said agreements are nearing final approval that would make Brazil one of the next “visa waiver” countries, meaning that travelers won’t have to get that special permission to enter the United States.

Why is this important to Las Vegas?

“We’re all shopaholics,” Di Pietro told the Tourism Commission.

The Brazilian currency, the real, is strong against the U.S. dollar, giving Brazilians more value for their money. And they love to shop.

That was affirmed by LVCVA President and CEO Rossi Ralenkotter, a member of the Tourism Commission.

Ralenkotter said the LVCVA has been conducting its own research on Brazilian customers. One of the questions asked in focus groups is: If you had two suitcases to take to Las Vegas, what would be in them?

The question is used to help learn what types of activities a traveler would be likely to experience when in Las Vegas.

Ralenkotter said the most common response was that one suitcase would be filled with clothes to wear to Las Vegas’ nightclubs and the other would be empty — to take back all the things they’d buy when they’re here.

It’s a response that Las Vegas retailers would love to hear.

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