Visitors to Rio concerned by virus, crime and high prices

By Liu Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/20 20:08:00

Tourists walk pass a fortress in Mar del Plata, Argentina in May 2015. Photo: IC

The 2016 Summer Olympic Games will kick off in Rio de Janeiro on August 5 and it is hoped that this will also kick off a new trend of Chinese tourists heading to South America on vacation.

According to the Jinling Evening News, Caissa Touristic, the exclusive Chinese travel provider for the Rio Olympic Games, said that thousands of travel packages have been purchased and many Chinese are planing to travel to neighboring countries around the Games, which are to be held August 5-21.

Chinese tourists need to apply for Brazilian visas one month in advance but those who have brought tickets for the Rio Olympic Games will have the visa application process streamlined, the newspaper reported.

Pricey period

Gu Dapeng, a manager at the Tuniu Corporation, an online travel company, told the Jinling Evening News that the Rio Olympic Games will boost Chinese enthusiasm for the country especially after the 2014 World Cup was held there.

During the World Cup, some 5,000 Chinese tourists traveled to Brazil. That year, Brazil received 100,000 visitors from China, Travel and Tour World, a US-based online magazine reported in July 2014.

Tourism to Brazil and South America may boom in the long run, but the boost in individual travelers from China to Brazil may be limited this year, Xu Xiaolei, manager of marketing at China CYTS Tours Holding Co, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

Xu said that Brazil's capability to receive tourists may be strained by the number of sports delegations heading to Rio and the corresponding spike in flight and hotel prices.

According to statistics from the Rio 2016 Olympic Games official website, more than 10,000 athletes from over 200 nations will compete in the Games. And hundreds of media staff and economic cooperation delegations will also arrive in Brazil in August.

Brazil and other South American countries are not the most convenient destinations for most Chinese tourists as flight times of more than 20 hours and tickets costing 50,000 yuan ($7,471) and up are common, said Ma Ding, director of overseas affairs at BTG International Travel & Tours.

Ma said that it is sometimes more difficult for Chinese to get visas to enter South American countries than to get into the US or Europe.

Xu echoed that strict visa policies for Chinese tourists may be due to questions over how much they are likely to spend or some ideological, historical reasons and that the situation is gradually changing.

The Chilean Embassy in China announced in July 2015 that Chinese tourists and business travelers no longer need a separate visa to visit Chile if they have visas for the US or Canada that are valid for more than six months. Ecuador also announced in March it would offer visa-free policies to Chinese citizens for up to 90 days.

Virus and violence

"Recent news about the Rio Olympic Games regarding risks like the Zika virus and high levels of crime in the city has also made some Chinese tourists hesitate," said Xu.

More than 1,600 cases of Zika virus have been confirmed in Brazil. Although officials have stressed the risk of catching the virus in August remains low, Dr Sam Allen, an expert in infectious diseases at Crosshouse Hospital in Scotland, has warned that all visitors to Rio risk contracting the virus, the UK-based Daily Record reported in July.

Personal security is another concern for most Chinese tourists. A tourist surnamed Cui who stayed in Brazil for two months told the Global Times that she feared taking her purse or cell phone out on the street.

Homicides were up 15 percent year-on-year in Rio state in the first four months of 2016, with mugging up by 24 percent, the Wall Street Journal reported.

According to The Guardian, Rio's local government has cut budgets for a range of public services, meaning police officers have had their salaries delayed. Officers struck in June with some welcoming visitors arriving at Rio's largest airport with a sign reading "Welcome to Hell. Police and Firefighters don't get paid, whoever comes to Rio de Janeiro will not be safe."

Brazil's government waited until July 1 to award the contract to hire and train thousands of security staff for the Games to a tiny firm, raising concerns about keeping the event safe amid fears of terrorism, the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday.

Newspaper headline: Timid tourists

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