Mac Lacy

Brazil makes a splash at 2014 RSAA Summit


Mac Lacy
Published March 05, 2014

WASHINGTON — More than 185 delegates, including a dozen in a delegation from BRAZTOA, Brazil’s tour operator trade association, gathered at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., February 4-5, for the 2014 Receptive Services Association of America (RSAA) Summit. RSAA is the trade association for international inbound receptive operators and works to promote and facilitate international travel into the United States from dozens of foreign countries.

While many countries were represented at the annual conference, it was Brazil and the thousands of high-dollar-amount visitors that are coming from that Latin American country that commanded much of the attention this year. On average, Brazilian travelers spend nearly $5,000 each on merchandise while in the United States.

International travel into the United States now numbers about 65 million visitors annually. The U.S. travel industry, led by the efforts of Brand USA in concert with many industry sectors, has set a goal of 100 million international visitors by 2021. Two keynote speakers — Ken Hyatt, acting undersecretary for international trade in the U.S. Department of Commerce, and Chris Thompson, CEO of Brand USA — both stressed that the immense growth in visitation to reach that goal must come from emerging markets like Brazil.

“The next 35 million will come from emerging markets, not our mature markets,” said Hyatt. “That includes markets like the one represented here by our friends from Brazil. In fact, Brazil is the best example of where these new visitors will come from.”

“The 100 million visitors equates to $250 billion in spending in the United States,” said Thompson. “Russia, China, Indian and Brazil [commonly referred to as the BRIC markets] can create the 100 million.”

“I’ll let you in on something,” said RSAA chairman Jonathan Zuk in an interview the following day. “We have signed an agreement with BRAZTOA that will make all 90 or so of their tour operator members international members of RSAA in the coming year. Currently, we have five or six international tour operator members from western Europe, but this will become our largest international membership by far.”

Over the two days, RSAA presented numerous educational sessions on topics such as working with the Brand USA campaign, how to work with receptives, understanding the millennial-generation traveler and two devoted to three specific markets — Brazil in one, and Chile and Taiwan in the other. The latter two countries are significant because they are the latest to enter into visa waiver agreements with the United States. Eliminating the need for a visa greatly reduces the work it takes to visit another country.


Highly specialized market

In an interview that touched on the role receptives play in the international market, Zuk emphasized the intricacies involved in working successfully with other cultures.

“Spaniards don’t eat before 10 p.m.,” said Zuk, who launched his inbound receptive company, Amadeo Travel Solutions, in 1999. “Brazilians are also late-night people. That’s their culture. Italians want bread with their food regardless of what meal it is. And they don’t want ice in their drinks.

“If you want to do business with an Italian company, and you don’t have lunch or dinner with them, you won’t get the business,” he said. “It’s that simple. These are cultural norms that you either know and follow, or you will not be successful in this industry.”

“We have collateral material in seven languages, and it takes us three to five years to build a new market,” said Zuk, who agreed that receptives like Amadeo are in many ways the “invisible” component of international packaged travel.

“Receptives are back-end operators,” he said. “We represent somebody else’s name — the name of our client — so we must be trusted. When someone in another country decides to come to the United States, they have an idea in mind of what it will be like. They are buying an idea, and we must match that idea.”