Copa América: How soccer drives tourism and pushes the market in Latin America - and in the world

South Americans cross national borders to follow their teams, raising millions per year and traveling outside the continent to sustain their passion for soccer

The Brazilian national team brought much more than the Copa América‘s title to Brazil. Along with this important achievement, the country’s market has seen an increase in tourist activities and great shifts in the areas surrounding that market sector. Prior to the beginning of the championship, the online travel agency Decolar revealed a study that showed a probable increase of 36% in the number of foreign tourists in the country. The data is confirmed by recurrent growth rates in cities such as Porto Alegre, which had 100% of the hotels occupied and handled over R$ 180 million during the championship period.

According to the Ministry of Tourism, the South American public, the target audience of the games of Copa América, reported a significant increase in the searches for tourist destinations in Brazil. In a survey released in May, the institution showed that all participating countries reported an increase in bookings for Brazilian destinations this year, compared to the same period last year.

For the Ministry, “The champions are the Bolivians, who bought 497% more tickets, followed by the Peruvians, with 285%, the Chileans with 141%, the Colombians with 126%, Uruguayans with 115%, and Ecuadorians with 108%. In Argentina, the main source of international tourists to Brazil – 2.2 million in 2017 – the demand increase was 64%“, said the official website, which also confirmed the three most-searched cities: São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Salvador.

Latin Americans’ passion for soccer-motivated tourism

Latin American’s behavior towards Copa América is not necessarily a novelty. According to a survey by MasterCard along with Toluna, the commitment of Latin Americans for soccer is so big that it is able to make those passionate about the sport give up on any other responsibility to watch a match instead.

About three thousand people from Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru participated in the research, which revealed common characteristics of those who give unlimited importance to soccer. Proud, superstitious, buddies, party-lovers, fanatics or especially committed to their favorite team, no matter the fan trait, it is true that all this passion has led to specific behaviors. Forget the simple adoption of rituals to bring luck on the day of the game. We are talking about much bigger shifts, like putting soccer at the center of touristic travel.

Vitor Brixi on Russia for the World Cup

Soccer for me is both a reason and an excuse to travel around“, says Production Engineer Vitor Porto Brixi, 30. Seeking the sport, he has already gone to the other side of the world in Russia to follow the 2018 World Cup. “Soccer has made me know many other cities, in addition to the standard roadmap for visiting Russia, which is Moscow and St. Petersburg. Several surprises,” he says. In Brazil, Brixi has already traveled the whole country chasing the sport during the 2014 World Cup, in 14 games across several capitals.

Vitor Brixi in the 2014 World Cup

This year’s UEFA Champions League final, which took place in Madrid, Spain, did not receive the engineer’s visit because of the difficulty he had in getting his plane tickets, since the entire journey was all set. “We canceled the trip because of this“, he laments. Experience over time has made him develop preferences. In World Cups, for example, he only takes part in eliminatory games, during the second phase of the competition. Thus, he already guaranteed tickets for the last two World Cup finals – the most disputed.

The last leisure trips I’ve done, except one for Hawaii, were motivated by soccer. I just did not watch the game of the Copa América 2015 final in Santiago, because Brazil did not advance, but I celebrated on the street with the Chileans the victory over Argentina“, recalls Brixi. One of the advantages of planning trips around a specific goal is, according to him, to prepare tourists for the reception in the country of destination.

In the larger cities of Russia, for example, as there were many people around the same subject, communication became much easier, because it happened in English. In smaller cities, it was already a real difficulty, since most of them communicated in Russian. However, in general, events of this size prepare the scenario for tourism, making almost everything easier for the visitor“, says the engineer, who has just returned from Rio de Janeiro, where he attended the final game of 2019 Copa América which consecrated Brazil champion and pushed national tourism.

Vitor Brixi and his family watching to a Copa América’s game

The tourist segment of which Brixi is an adept is nothing new: Soccer tourism. Each year, it draws thousands of fans from around the world – especially among Latin Americans traveling to neighboring countries – by arranging travel agencies with packages of activities and tours created specifically for this. The love for soccer in Latin America comprises different stadiums (for many, true temples) in first-level excursions.

For those who are fans and are happy to watch these true performances, all the efforts to cross the country, the continent or the planet is justified to watch a live match. To get an idea of ​​the numbers that this sector brings, in 2014, during the World Cup in Brazil, about 3.7 million foreigners were here, injecting R $ 6.7 billion into the country’s economy, according to data from the Ministry of Tourism.

What the most experienced already know is that the best soccer-motivated trip will depend on how much time is available. A few days usually means following the team games in the home country. A week at the destination almost always focuses on following the matches of the club in another country, like the Copa Libertadores of America. An entire month free for soccer (usually during work holidays), is the time that requires a quality tour during events such as the World Cup.

Around here, who wants to get to know South America via soccer, has in Libertadores a great opportunity, since this championship brings together teams from several countries from the South of the continent (many of which do not require the passport for Brazilians to enter) in an annual competition. The friendly matches of the Brazilian team, although not worth points or titles, also represent a great opportunity to get to know other countries. Latin America, by itself, is a big deal for soccer fans. Uruguay, Argentina, Colombia, Mexico, Paraguay, Chile and Peru – apart from Brazil, of course – are countries with some of the most popular stadiums in the region. And all of them, without exception, with indisputable tourist potential.

More than that, it is from this region that such an audience comes from, an audience that is highly willing to open its wallet and enjoy, simultaneously, soccer and travel. According to Mastercard’s research, 35% of all respondents said they would stop working or studying to watch a game. Peruvians, according to the survey, appear to be the most committed to the sport, since 39% said they would miss work or give up a family event to attend a match, and 20% would lose a marriage event because of soccer.

Such a cultural landscape only proves what previous analyses have already shown: Latin America is among the largest sources of tourists worldwide and also among the markets that spend the most on travel. And the figure of soccer, in this context, has a huge influence, one that reflects the social and cultural aspects of a community that doesn’t measure efforts in the name of a passion.