By Barbara Liston
ORLANDO Fla. (Reuters) - Forget those stay-at-home, World Cup soccer-obsessed Brazilians.
Feeling flush in a growing economy, Brazilian tourists have dethroned the British as Florida’s largest group of overseas visitors by country of origin.
Orlando was by far the most popular destination, attracting 768,000 Brazilians in 2013, compared to 759,000 from the United Kingdom, according to figures released last week by the U.S. Commerce Department.
The British had also been the largest group of overseas visitors to Orlando, the most visited U.S. city, for at least the past 15 years.
The overseas figures do not include Canada, which continues to contribute the largest number of foreign visitors to the state - 3.5 million in 2012, according to Statistics Canada, a national agency.The theme park capital of the world and long flavored with tea rooms and British pubs, Orlando has become noticeably spiced with rodizio all-you-can-eat service at Brazilian steak houses and bilingual retail staff speaking Portuguese.
The upturn in Brazilian travelers to Orlando, which jumped 20 percent from 2012, coincides with a slight decline since 2006 in visitors from the UK, which continues to struggle with the effects of the recession, said Mark Jaronski, a spokesman for the Orlando Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Brazil sent almost 1.2 million people to Florida in 2013, compared to fewer than 1.1 million from Britain. In 2012 there were only 971,000 from Brazil and almost 1.1 million from Britain.
The number of Brazilians coming to the United States overall has jumped 292 percent since 2006, reaching a total of 2,060,000 visitors in 2013, according to the commerce report.
Virtually all the Brazilians come to shop and sightsee, and half want to visit theme parks, which is third on their list of activities, according to traveler surveys.
To keep South American soccer fans happy during the World Cup, the Florida Mall, which is the largest in central Florida and an international traveler destination, set up a soccer viewing station broadcasting every game live on giant screens.
At Perfumeland on Orlando’s touristy International Drive, where many of the 200 sales associates speak Portuguese, Brazilian tourists buy extra suitcases to fill with electronics, sunglasses, watches and perfumes, said Alejandro Pezzini, chief operating officer of the company.
“It’s the equivalent to 40 consecutive days of Black Friday,” said Pezzini, describing the busy months of June and July, winter break for Brazilian visitors.
(Editing by David Adams and Jim Loney)