Brazilian tourism officials and travel sellers are hoping to see tourism receipts take wing with the success of "Rio," the animated film based on the antics of tropical birds cavorting around Rio de Janeiro.
In its first three weeks in theaters, "Rio" has racked up more than $100 million in ticket sales.
"The internationally released animation 'Rio' is faithful to the captivating city of Rio de Janeiro and highlights what a fascinating place it can be for visitors to experience," said Mario Moyses, president of Embratur, the Brazilian tourism board. " 'Rio' appeals to families from all over the world, and we are very excited that the animation will help people not only to discover and to learn a bit more about Brazil but also to come visit us soon."
Looking to capitalize, Embratur has arranged to show a trailer for its promotional documentary "Sounds of Brazil" before "Rio" at 250 theaters worldwide. The documentary “reveals a variety of fantastic experiences ... such as our unique culture, our joyful people, our dynamic cities and their natural treasures," according to Moyses.
The New York office of the Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau reported calls from several U.S. travel agencies requesting promotional materials to accommodate increased demand or engage in co-marketing with local movie theaters, according to spokesman Joao Rodrigues.
"I also spoke with one agent who also said she’s already been getting additional inquiries from people looking to travel to Rio with their family," he said.
Agents at Wilson Travel and Cruise in St. Charles, Ill., decided to take up a local cinema’s offer to co-market around the film. Using promotional materials from Embratur and wholesaler partner Isram Tours, travel consultant Tammy Moudy and her colleagues from Wilson set up a Rio de Janeiro-themed information booth at the theater.
The first two nights the movie ran, agency staff handed out Embratur DVDs and business cards to moviegoers. In the weeks since, the booth has been unstaffed but remains stocked with brochures, flyers and other materials.
"Have we gotten any phones from it? No," reported Moudy.
Was it worth trying?
"Absolutely," she said. "We also have the movie poster hanging in our office, so we have been promoting the movie to our client base."
The consumer interest in Rio de Janeiro sparked by the animated film may just be a warm-up before upcoming major events the city will host, such as the 2014 World Cup soccer tournament and the 2016 Summer Olympics.
"I think with having the Olympics there, it’s definitely going to be bringing more tourists," said Moudy. Wilson Travel and Cruise is so confident in Rio's appeal that the agency is designating the city its showcase destination for April 2012.
According to Rodrigues, the Rio Convention and Visitors Bureau hadn’t anticipated an immediate bump in bookings due to the film. "But now they see an increased interest and will definitely will be keeping an eye on it and talking with some of the ground operators to see if and how [the film] differentiates [arrivals] compared to last year," he said.
Sandra Borello, president of Borello Travel in New York, reported increased interest in Rio vacations, but isn’t sure she has the movie to thank. "I've had many requests since the end of last year and even several this month, but I have not heard that it was because of 'Rio,'" she said, crediting Embratur’s promotional work and Olympic and World Cup hype instead.
"But then, I’m not so sure travelers are going to admit that they want to go to Rio because of a cartoon," she added. "Maybe the child in their hearts is calling them to go to Rio. And any little thing can influence people."
Borello suggests that agents interested in selling around "Rio" point clients not to the city itself but to central Brazil's Pantanal region, a 58,000-square-mile wetland that is home to many of the bird species featured in the film. The Pantanal is a Unesco World Heritage Site.
Borello's suggested itinerary includes an overnight flight to Brasilia; one night in the capital with a night tour and "dinner in some superb restaurant"; a flight to Cuiaba for three nights at the Araras Pantanal Ecolodge; and three nights in Rio before returning to the U.S.